Monday, April 24, 2017

A Big Study of the Psychological Differences between Men and Women

Since some of y'all seem to enjoy discussing sex and gender, how about this sophisticated study, based on tests taken by a fairly random sample of 10,000 Americans, showing large differences in personality between men and women, The test measures personality differences along 15 axes:
Warmth (reserved vs. warm), Emotional Stability (reactive vs. emotionally stable), Dominance (deferential vs. dominant), Liveliness (serious vs. lively), Rule-Consciousness (expedient vs. rule-conscious), Social Boldness (shy vs. socially bold), Sensitivity (utilitarian vs. sensitive), Vigilance (trusting vs. vigilant), Abstractness (grounded vs. abstracted), Privateness (forthright vs. private), Apprehension (self-assured vs. apprehensive), Openness to Change (traditional vs. open to change), Self-Reliance (group-oriented vs. self-reliant), Perfectionism (tolerates disorder vs. perfectionistic), and Tension (relaxed vs. tense).
The overall result:
We found a global effect size D = 2.71, corresponding to an overlap of only 10% between the male and female distributions.
Which is a huge difference, dwarfing any that have been found between nations or ethnic groups. Note that is a test of personality and has nothing to do with intelligence, ability, etc.

The biggest difference is along the "utilitarian vs. sensitive" axis, which was so large that they thought it might be messing up the whole study and so reran their numbers without it; they found that most of the overall difference survived even without that one axis. (Women are more sensitive, men more utilitarian, in case you wondered.)

I'm not going to get into defending this particular test as accurate or this particular analysis as correct. But in general over the past 20 years psychology has moved more and more in this direction, finding major sex differences in all sorts of studies. This is probably because the modernist generation that gave us 1970s feminism has aged out of power and been replaced by my generation, and we are just a lot more into genetics than they were. Plus a string of legal victories for women's rights has made it less important to insist, for political reasons, that men and women are the same.

Anyway this is what the best data we have shows, and it confirms what I have found out about life; on average, men and women are different. That by itself says nothing about any particular person you happen to meet, since there are also big differences among men and among women, and the distribution of the two sexes overlaps on every axis. Nor does it say anything about why men and women are different, and much of what is being measured might be caused by socialization. Not all, since some of the differences are found in all human societies – for example that men are more violent – but anyway I think that for most purposes this just doesn't matter very much.

The challenge – and I see this as one of the biggest challenges facing humanity, bigger than economic inequality or climate change – is to create a social and political order that accommodates sex differences while maintaining a very high degree of equality. Because it is probably true that many, many people can't think in this way. Many people can't imagine that two things can be different but of the same value; the idea that "if men and women are different on average, then men must be better leaders and we should always vote for the man" seems to be widespread, entrenched at a deep psychological level. Likewise many people are bad at distinguishing between groups and individuals, thus "eight of the ten people in my 8th-grade programming camp were guys and the five best programmers I know are guys therefore no woman can program."

So I understand the impulse to claim that there are no fundamental differences between men and women, as the simplest way to create equality. But that is not what the data says. And more important, it is not what many people experience in life. Again, I don't think it matters whether these differences are biological or social in origin, because we in fact live in a world in which men and women are different, and whatever plan you come up with to reduce those differences over time is not going to change anything very quickly. There is also the practical fact that women have the babies and therefore bear much of the cost of reproduction. Right now we are faced with creating equality between two different groups of people, and that is just hard.

7 comments:

David said...

I'm deeply, deeply skeptical of your "bigger than economic equality or climate change" claim. Climate change may potentially be huge, bigger than anything, or it may be much less than doomsayers expect.

But no, sex differences and inequalities are not bigger than economic inequality--especially since evolving technology is likely to exaggerate still further economic inequalities, given that much new technology is going to be frightfully expensive (in health, longevity, biotechnical enhancement, etc.), and since economic inequalities are closely related to the kind of gross (in the quantitative or medical sense) power inequalities that really matter on a society-wide level.

David said...

Obviously I meant your "bigger than economic INequality" claim.

szopen said...

I had not realised that the differences at that big - I knew the difference on extraversion/introversion and agree.. agrea.. something-blesness and thought that THOSE are the biggest.

szopen said...

But here's one thing: imagine we find that there is a difference on some measure between males/females in some Western country, and no such difference in some non-western country. There are following explanations

(1) Difference in western country is due to stereotypical socialisation (causing a difference, difference is arteficial)
(2) Lack of difference in non-western country is due to socialisation aiming at erasing the difference (lack of difference is arteficial)
(3) The two populations are in fact genetically different (ie. both difference in western country and lack of difference in non-western country are true and resultant of underlying biology)

(3) can be tested by looking at people originally from non-western country, when raised in western country. But how to differentiate between (1) and (2)?

G. Verloren said...

"Nor does it say anything about why men and women are different, and much of what is being measured might be caused by socialization. Not all, since some of the differences are found in all human societies – for example that men are more violent – but anyway I think that for most purposes this just doesn't matter very much."

I don't believe we can really logically conclude that all human socities display such differences.

For one thing, our data is massively incomplete. We simply do not have the records, particularly as we go further back in time. Entire civilizations are colossal mysteries to us, with only scant evidence for their cultures and how gender values might have been expressed in them.

For another thing, much of the data we do have is absurdly tainted by survivor's bias. The winners wrote the history books, and people view the world through the lens of their own traditions and familiarities.

Why does so much of the world belong to Abrahamic religious traditions? Because of some innate human attraction to those belief systems? Or because the massively influential Roman Empire just so happened to abritrarily end up adopting and promoting Christianity, providing immense and direct impetus for the decline of polytheism and heathen traditions across the entire western world, and setting the stage for the advent of Islam as well?

Imagine if things had gone only slightly differently! What if Jesus had died in infancy due to illness? Or what if he was arrested sooner, before he could gain as large a following? Or what if the Romans never sacked Jerusalem and were less oppressive to the Jews, providing less incentive for the populace to seek guidance outside of the established clergy? Or what if the empire cracked down more successfully on early Christians, and they remained a fringe cult? What if Constantine never converted?

Or what if Scipio Africanus caught an arrow in the neck early in his military career? What if Carthage had managed to win the Punic Wars? We likely wouldn't call them the Punic Wars anymore, as "Punic" was a Roman term, derived from the Phoenician ancestry if their foes. We wouldn't speak languages derived from Latin, nor use such alphabets. The culture and traditions of Rome would have fallen to the wayside, supplanted by an ascendant Carthaginean culture, and all of western history would have followed an entirely different historical course. And of course, we'd now find ourselves viewing the world through a lens and a bias derived ultimately from the Carthaginean worldview, rather than the Roman one.

So yes - men and women in our present society have "fundamentally" different experiences from one another, but that's because our society was build upon the foundations of those which preceded it. If at some point a culture of matriarchy had come to dominate the Western world as opposed to one of patriarchy, or perhaps a culture of non-gendered sexual equality, the experiences of men and women would naturally be very different than we find them today.

szopen said...

" If at some point a culture of matriarchy had come to dominate the Western world as opposed to one of patriarchy, or perhaps a culture of non-gendered sexual equality, the experiences of men and women would naturally be very different than we find them today."

Maybe, but there does not seem to be much indication of actual existence of matriarchal or equal societies. Some of examples presented (e.g. Mosuos in China) were not really matriarchal, and in what's left, patriarchal societies seem to dominate west, east, south and north.

John said...

The reason I am so impressed by the difficulty of creating a society of sexual equality is that I cannot imagine what that would be like. I can imagine a society of economic equality; indeed there are many such societies, although of course they are all desperately poor by our standards. But I have never read or heard any account of how to set up a society that would really be fair to both men and women, accommodate their differences and their desire to sometimes only be around others of the same sex, accommodate motherhood, and so on. So in practical terms in may not be our biggest challenge – although I insist that it is a very serious one – but intellectually it is one of the hardest.