I'm imagining a civilization trying to lower the criminal rate as low as possible in order to become a peaceful place.

Suppose the criminal rate of that virtual civilization currently is not awfully high, just low as modern country in Europe. But that civilization wants to do better: lower criminal rate if possible, if not zero crimes. And I had a rather strange idea: can a crazy government add some estrogen into the water or food supply to achieve this?

My idea is based on the real world that there are far more males than females in prison, so I think the world would be more peaceful if most civilizations contain more female characteristics. Is that idea possible? And is there any drawback on this idea?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Jul 10 '17 at 2:23
  • Are you specifically asking about violent crime? (Please edit rather than answering in comments, and then flag this comment as obsolete. Thanks.) – Monica Cellio Jul 10 '17 at 2:24
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    Based on stories from the all-girls high school that my best friend was the student council president of 20 years ago: No. Definitely no. – Jason C Jul 10 '17 at 17:13
  • Yes, because enough hormones to change behavior significantly will cause imbalances that mess with reproduction (as mucking about with sex hormones will tend to do) and shortly you will have no society. No people = no crime, your zero percent has been achieved by one generation. – Megha Aug 14 '17 at 1:30
up vote 38 down vote accepted

Perhaps, but it's not a great idea. High estrogen levels have various serious health impacts for men and tend to cause the development of female bodily characteristics.

Perhaps a better approach (in a work of dystopian fiction only!) would be to administer an anti-androgen a drug with the purpose of inhibiting the body's production of thestosterone. The impact for the population would not be to "feminise" the males, but rather to "neuter" them, make them like castrated males or eunuchs - more docile, less aggressive which seems to be your objective. Possible fictitious names for an anti-androgen: Boymaker or Castratium.

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    Eunuchs did not look feminised in history. They tended to become very tall and have no facial hair. This made them very obvious compared to the average male. I think this has to be a pre-puberty change. If a chemical did similar things to the general population you would have no beards, baldness (or fatality?) in the male population. Maybe just get everyone stoned and provide them with plenty of food. – TafT Jul 7 '17 at 9:53
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    Were eunuchs actually more docile though, and if so, was it really because of biology? There's at least a strong belief that the supposed docility of women is at least partly socially acquired. I'm reminded of some traditional cultures (in Asia/the Pacific and maybe among Native Americans) where some 'surplus' men were/are socially feminized, without any biological intervention. Despite being physically intact males, and despite lack of hormone supplements, they're still expected to be unambitious and care for family. I guess I'm saying it's unclear whether making eunuchs works as desired. – Deolater Jul 7 '17 at 13:00
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    Related: In the right cultural contexts, women can be just as competitive as men (freakonomics summary). This might be applicable for crime rates. – ryanyuyu Jul 7 '17 at 16:05
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    Since it seems like there are misconceptions abound in this comment section. Men are generally more aggressive, women are more neurotic (women are an entire standard deviation more in psychometric measures like the Five Factor Model), and these couple very strongly with male and female hormones. Yes it is partly "socially acquired" but its a second order effect. Since Leydig cells in our testicle produce testosterone cutting off the balls decreases testosterone in eunuchs. – Skyler Jul 7 '17 at 19:55
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    +1 for "dystopian fiction only." Wish I could upvote this more than once. This is a horrible idea, and the only purpose I hope it would ever serve in a work of fiction is to illustrate just how horrible the idea is. And I think most fiction authors would underestimate the horrible effects. (You have underestimated them, too.) – Wildcard Jul 8 '17 at 2:50

In most societies, men are more likely than women to commit crimes. However, it's far from clear why this happens and there is no evidence than chemically feminizing men can prevent crime - except maybe for some sexual assaults. Some facts even suggest that some part of the difference is social and not biological:

  • As women status gets more equal to that of men, the rate of criminal women increase more than that of men.
  • Differences are way smaller for crimes which do not require physical strength.

In summary: we don't know if such schema can reduce crime rates. We don't even know if building a society without men could reduce crime rate.

And I must admit that it would be a very interesting experiment, although I hope they try it somewhere else than my place.

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    There is also selection bias / discrimination at play with higher male crime rates. Women get lower sentences, or are just let go for the same crime that may jail men. So whether all jailed men are guilty, and what ratio of conviction / nonconviction is present in male and female populations may skew the overall crime statistics. – user2259716 Jul 7 '17 at 21:03
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    Even if we take in account all selection biases, it's a fact that in average men commit more crimes than women. Finding out why women commit less crimes is challenging, but if there is a chance to use that information to make men commit as few crimes as women do, it's worth researching. That's what makes this question interesting. – Pere Jul 7 '17 at 21:38
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    Interesting yes, terrifying and reckless also yes. My point was we already know of several factors that lend to skewed reported statistics. Even if the REAL statistics are weighted towards men, there are still several more factors including gender role and society to be considered. (What is considered crime, why is it done, and is the underlying reason economic, social, or based off of an underlying chemical disorder.) Chemical alteration is effectively taking an axe (not scissors) to a length of rope, without bothering to measure it. – user2259716 Jul 7 '17 at 21:42
  • Yes, the proposed solution is terrifying, although not very more terrifying that other strategies against crime used along human history - and probably it isn't very more mislead than them. The key problem is that we don't know enough why people commit crimes. At least, we don't know enough to figure an efficient and feasible way to stop criminals. – Pere Jul 7 '17 at 22:52
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    @jamesqf You can put your own limits to your scepticism. How do we know that crime exists? I must admit that I've never been murdered. All I know is that murder is often reported. Anyway, all available evidence supports that in most developed countries crime exists and men commit more crimes than women. If you find that claim unreliable, I suggest asking at Sceptics Stack Exchange. – Pere Jul 8 '17 at 16:36

Insofar as testosterone is correlated with aggression, it's natural to assume that estrogen might counteract that tendency, but research suggests that

the effects of estrogens on male aggression are variable, increasing aggression in some species and decreasing aggression in others.

(referencing this).

And, as others have pointed out, the costs and impacts of loading the populace up with estrogen are not negligible.

The overall idea is not bad, however. For example,

lithium levels in tap water have been significantly and negatively correlated with suicide

(from this). Just as flouride is added to many water supplies to improve dental hygiene, it's conceivable (albeit controversial) to think something else might be added to improve mental hygiene... and it's not impossible to propose that better mental health would have a positive impact on crime rates.

(That said... don't forget the poor Mirandans)

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    Welcome to WorldBuilding gowenfawr! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! – Secespitus Jul 7 '17 at 13:17
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    A good reading point for people interested in this would be to look at the bodybuilding community who does testosterone injections (which lead to the body producing elevated amounts of estrogen), they need to take estrogen inhibitors due to the emotional effects it has on them (which correlates with irritability and anger). The estrogen seemed to increase their propensity to lose their temper so in the original question this likely would increase crime rates. – Skyler Jul 7 '17 at 20:00
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    Those of the Miranda incident, we remember them, lest we forget... – Samwise Jul 7 '17 at 22:42

This experiment is underway!

Adipose (fatty) tissue produces estrogen via aromatization of testosterone and related steroids. This is why fat men grow breasts. An obesity epidemic has swept through the US and I understand Britain is next. Maybe then France, although I suspect their love of cigarettes will help them fend it off.

You can match crime rates to obesity rates in a given area.

There may be something to the hypothesis that high androgen levels give rise to more aggressive behavior and so perhaps more road rage / crime of passion type crime.

Bear in mind for your fictional Luxembourgeoise that a fair amount of crime is a result of rational, profit-oriented planning. It would be a great twist that lowering androgen levels actually led to robbers thinking their crimes through more thoroughly, making them hard to catch.

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    I think this is much better than just giving them pure estrogen. Give all the criminals breasts and make them too slow to run away from the law. Maybe all this time giving them McDonalds as "food" in prison instead of rotten meat would've solved those high relapse rates – Raditz_35 Jul 7 '17 at 13:36
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    Synthetic estrogen from birthcontrol pills also apparently can pass though some water treatment systems, and is sometimes detectable in tap water. – user25818 Jul 7 '17 at 15:42
  • @Raditz_35 Who is a criminal though? Why did they commit their crime, and is that crime immoral / wrong or just a government ordinance? Most prisoners are drug related, which is completely a government ordinance. Was doing drugs bad? If someone jaywalked or smoked pot are we going to treat them like rapists and murderers? What about cheating on taxes, not paying a parking ticket, or just speeding? Do we just treat everyone in case they are criminals? ARE YOU A CRIMINAL? If so.. STOP RIGHT THERE CRIMINAL SCUM! – user2259716 Jul 7 '17 at 21:11
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    This doesn't make sense. Obesity has far more direct effects on the ability to commit crimes than the indirect effect increased estrogen levels might have. – Philipp Jul 8 '17 at 1:22
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    @Will The problem is that this is not a controlled experiment. By making people obese and measuring the effect on crime you are measuring the effects of obesity on crime. Not the effect of estrogen on crime, because estrogen increase is just one of many direct effects of obesity. You can not isolate and measure the influence of estrogen from that experiment. Any reader of the work would realize how nonsensical and meaningless that experiment is. – Philipp Jul 8 '17 at 16:58

I think that increasing serotonin would be much better, as well as education/brain plasticity. I think people in jail tend to have very low serotonin (cause or consequence ?), but it would make sense.

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    If you can expand a bit your reasoning this could become a better answer. – L.Dutch Jul 8 '17 at 14:56
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    @clipper The unethical government could also regulate other neurotransmitters and hormones like Cortisol and dopamine. Cortisol hormone is well known in stress-related feed-back loops tied to quite a few body systems: info from – N2ition Jul 9 '17 at 20:09
  • @ Clipper this article: dujs.dartmouth.edu/2011/02/…: "cortisol participates in an inhibitory feedback loop by blocking the secretion of corticotripin-releasing hormone, preventing the HPA axis interactions central to glucocorticoid secretion. Many in the scientific community speculate that chronic levels of high stress disrupt the delicate feedback balance, resulting in the failure of feedback inhibition to operate and the continued release of cortisol". – N2ition Jul 9 '17 at 20:10
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    @Clipper You could imagine them trying to control cortisol levels to impact at least some of the spontaneous rage/stress related violence without realizing the dangers of affecting the other interconnected body systems. – N2ition Jul 9 '17 at 20:10

Well, this already happens in places like Thailand, Philippines and other places in the world. There is a lot of men who voluntarily take feminine hormones.

Regarding crime rates, those populations are very low at assault crimes anyway. Regarding non-assault crimes, such as stealing, there is no indication that transgenders are les susceptible. Moreover, it is alleged that they are still more criminal than average women.

The reduction of violent crimes may be a reality among transgenders, but this may be because they intentionally choose women's behavioral patterns (compare lesbians who are often enormously violent so to look like men).

I'm imagining a civilization is trying to lower the criminal rate as low as possible in order to become a peaceful place.

There are two different things -- a crime rate and a violent crime rate. A civilization can have a large crime rate primarily contributed due to non-violent crimes such as burglary, abuse of banned substances etc. (This idea is echoed in jamesqf's comment.) If the society has really strict laws (say like 1984), then one can even have thoughtcrime.

Suppose the criminal rate of that virtual civilization currently is not awfully high, just low as modern country in Europe. But that civilization wants to do better: lower criminal rate if possible, if not zero crimes.

First of all, you might want to reconsider (i.e. do a cost benefit analysis) from the government's POV if such drastic measures ("pumping" the entire population with extra estrogren) are worth it and in line with the government's overall philosophy. There are good reasons why European governments today aren't taking any drastic measures themselves (relatively speaking). If your government is anything like Oceania's (from 1984), then anything goes. But beware of going to such an extreme.

And I had a rather strange idea: can a crazy government add some estrogen into the water or food supply to achieve this?

If the government is crazy, then the head of the government (or people) in charge might proceed without consulting experts (doctors, sociologists etc.) if this is actually going to work; not unlike some real life governments (@Raditz_35 mentions a similar idea in the comments). Another possibility is that, if there is a powerful company which has discovered a cheap way of making estrogen, then a good way to make money (since there might not be a large market for estrogen) would be to land a huge government contract. You can probably see where this is going.

The other answers have already addressed the scientific points quite well, so I will not reiterate those here.

I think the issue can be easily thought about by using different stats.

There are more black people in prison than whites in countries with a mix of races. Does this mean black people are inclined to be criminal more than white people and should we chain black people up to reduce crime rates?

Of course this is fallacious - sure, there are more black men in prison than white men, but the idea that being black in itself makes you more likely to be criminal is stupid. So the reasons for the difference in prison population must be attributed to other factors - lifestyle, upbringing, social pressure etc, and not genetics.

So, does this mean that women do not commit more crimes because they are in fact made of sugar and spice, or because the same social pressures and lifestyle choices preclude them from committing crimes?

I'd say yes. There is evidence that domestic violence towards men is significantly under-reported, and more prevalent in lesbian relationships. this suggests that women do not commit acts of violence simply because they do not think they would win, but in environments where they are more comfortable with the potential outcome, they are just as violent as men (and often more dangerous as they are more likely to use weapons than fists)

So your question - can we "neuter" men to reduce crime... no.

If you want to reduce crime, you need to consider other factors. Is there something more in common with criminals (as I understand the majority of crime is committed by a very few people - I recall "blip boy" who was so-called because when he was released or escaped from youth custody, the crime stats would increase significantly, causing a blip in the graphs). Is there something in poverty (unlikely as there are very rich criminals too), or is there something in the detection or justice system that doesn't deter these people? I can't answer any of those, but there's probably a bit of truth to all of them, that's where you should focus your crime-fighting efforts.

It is not about increasing estrogen vs testosterone level. It is more important how hormones express themselves in a genetic level.

Genetic traits through the years have changed due to sexual selection and other more complicated reasons.

e.g. we can have the same testosterone levels as males did thousands of years ago, but be less aggressive because expressing this trait can have negative reproductive impact.

So to answer your question estrogen will not solve this problem. An alternative would be t-blockers or genetic manipulation.

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