Incarceration rates have risen dramatically for women and men since the 1970s. While rates among women remain lower than those among men, the rate of increase among women has been faster. Women’s incarceration rates have increased even as overall crime rates have declined. Crime levels in 2013-2015 were the same (violent crime) or lower (property crime) than in 1969-1971, but 10 times more women were in prison.

Are these high incarceration rates—for both men and women—simply the result of a higher level of crime? It’s not that simple. A combination of stiffer penalties (longer sentences) and more prison sentences per arrest have led to higher incarceration rates. Key factors contributing to this increase include stricter sentencing guidelines and the crackdown on illegal drugs, particularly during the 1980s. And for many young women, a direct correlation exists between trauma and later incarceration.

Learn more about U.S. incarceration rates, the toll incarceration takes on families, and the ways in which parents’ imprisonment impacts their children’s health and behavior.


You can also explore more information behind this featured graphic in the PRB Population Bulletin, “Losing Ground: Young Women’s Well-Being Across Generations in the United States,” which presents a comprehensive new Index of Young Women’s Well-Being showing how social and structural barriers to progress for young women in Generation X and the Millennial generation have contributed to a dramatic rise in women’s incarceration rates, their persistently high poverty rates, a declining share of women in high-wage/high-tech jobs, and increases in maternal mortality and women’s suicide.