Sex differences tend to be larger– not smaller– in more individualistic, gender-egalitarian countries

Jul 16, 2020

A large number of well done studies have painted a rather consistent picture of sex differences in personality that are strikingly consistent across cultures (see herehere, and here). It turns out that the most pervasive sex differences are seen at the “narrow” level of personality traits, not the “broad” level (see here for a great example of this basic pattern).

On average, males tend to be more dominant, assertive, risk-prone, thrill-seeking, tough-minded, emotionally stable, utilitarian, and open to abstract ideas. Males also tend to score higher on self-estimates of intelligence, even though sex differences in general intelligence measured as an ability are negligible [2]. Men also tend to form larger, competitive groups in which hierarchies tend to be stable and in which individual relationships tend to require little emotional investment. In terms of communication style, males tend to use more assertive speech and are more likely to interrupt people (both men and women) more often– especially intrusive interruptions– which can be interpreted as a form of dominant behavior.

Of course, there are many men who don’t display high levels of all of these traits. But that fact doesn’t contradict the broader pattern.

In contrast, females, on average, tend to be more sociable, sensitive, warm, compassionate, polite, anxious, self-doubting, and more open to aesthetics. On average, women are more interested in intimate, cooperative dyadic relationships that are more emotion-focused and characterized by unstable hierarchies and strong egalitarian norms. Where aggression does arise, it tends to be more indirect and less openly confrontational. Females also tend to display better communication skills, displaying higher verbal ability and the ability to decode other people’s nonverbal behavior. Women also tend to use more affiliative and tentative speech in their language, and tend to be more expressive in both their facial expressions and bodily language (although men tend to adopt a more expansive, open posture). On average, women also tend to smile and cry more frequently than men, although these effects are very contextual and the differences are substantially larger when males and females believe they are being observed than when they believe they are alone.

Contrary to what one might expect, for all of these personality effects the sex differences tend to be larger– not smaller– in more individualistic, gender-egalitarian countries. One could make the point that many of these differences aren’t huge, and they’d be mostly right if we just stopped our analysis here [3]. However, in recent years it’s becoming increasingly clear that when you take a look at the overall gestalt of personality– taking into account the correlation between the traits– the differences between the sexes become all the more striking.

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