More evidence that men and women are more alike than different

A review analysis of 13 studies — encompassing more than 13,000 individuals — found that there were more differences in personality, behavior, and preferences from one woman to another woman, and one man to another man, than there were between men and women as groups. In other words: The opposite sex isn't an alien life form. Men and women are both from Earth, not Mars or Venus. Diversity abounds, but you can't really classify those differences as "women are like this" and "men are like that". Instead, it's more like "this person is like this" and "that other person is like that".


    1. The sexual binary is pretty close to a useful simplification though. Works for 99.9% of the people

      1. Don’t know about your percentage, but it is safe to say that physical sexuality and self-identified gender is at least strongly correlated. 

        I know the article says ‘scientists confirm the obvious’ but I don’t think it is obvious at all, given the physical differences between the sexes, that there wouldn’t be non-physical differences too. Especially when you factor in a culture filled with artifacts that discuss gender differences (whether that’s a piece of literature  an article in Cosmo, or an off-color locker room joke) and factor in the power of confirmation bias. 

        These studies remain important.

        Edit: Though not obvious, it should be unsurprising if you’ve seen these sorts of studies before. It reminds me I need to double check the ‘urban legend’ I’ve held about most comparisons between men and women: same mean, men have larger deviation. Maybe totally untrue.

        1. I don’t have the citations on hand, but the IQ finding on variability is moderately supported. For other psychological variables, not so much. To boot, most of these studies are going to be flummoxed by the tendency of males to die earlier than females (witnessed by the sex ratio at birth being on average 107 and 103 if I remember correctly in developed nations). Male variability there dies out before it can be sampled.

        2. You’d expect men to have a greater frequency of rare traits, given that men only need the trait to be expressed on their single X chromosome whereas women need a matching pair. You see this with color blindness, which is a recessive X chromosome trait.

          I have no idea what other non-sex traits are actually found on the X chromosome, but it stands to reason that whatever those traits are, you’d see the “Same mean, men have larger deviation” pattern.

          1. sure. why not. Or we could notice that “as many as” and “may be” are weasel words with lots of wiggle room. 

        1. According to wikipedia it depends on what definition you use. 

          “1 percent of live births exhibit some degree of sexual ambiguity. Between 0.1% and 0.2% of live births are ambiguous enough to become the subject of specialist medical attention, including surgery to disguise their sexual ambiguity.”
          “According to Leonard Sax the prevalence of intersex “restricted to those conditions in which chromosomal sex is inconsistent with phenotypic sex, or in which the phenotype is not classifiable as either male or female” is about 0.018″

    2. After working in a hospital, I can tell you that once they’ve been hosed down and put into a gown, it’s not always that easy to tell men from women, especially if they’re over 50.

  1. John Gray made a lot of money peddling stereotypes and pseudo-science. I remember reading an article back in ’99 or so which pointed out much the same thing. But everyone likes their pithy statements of things that they already believe so reality has little chance of competing.

  2. FTA: ” masculinity and femininity, the study found, “are not all-or-nothing traits…they are truly a continuum.””

    Who ever said they were all or nothing? Otherwise, you’d get nowhere telling a dude he’s not very masculine?

    liberalism and conservatism are not ‘all or nothing’ and are a true continuum. so what.

    1. It’s a strawman. No serious researcher in the modern era has ever claimed that there are _categorical_ differences. Best of luck explaining how differences in distribution (or standard deviation for that matter) matter. It’s Lewontin’s fallacy all over again.

      1. Here’s the thing, when it comes to stuff like this, it doesn’t only matter what serious researchers think. We have to talk about results like this because there’s a large portion of the public that does very much believe there are categorical differences between men and women. 

  3. That moment when the brony fandom failed to prove this to bystanders sooner.
    That moment when you can pick up chicks at a sci-fi convention.
    That moment when you have a little sister that’s into dinosaurs, dragons, and pokemon.

    That moment when this is not news.

    1. I’m waiting for the moment when those things don’t raise any eyebrows.  We ain’t living in a post-gender world just yet.

  4. Differences are slight and cover a broad spectrum, the King Richard III In the car park was an example of feminine features of his skeleton apparently. One end of spectrum can seem very different to the other and meet at some points! There are many different rainbows in the analogy also!

  5. It isn’t exactly true that this means that we can’t draw any conclusions of the form “women are like X, men are like Y.”

    “A review analysis of 13 studies found that there were more differences .. from one woman to another woman, and one man to another man, than there were between men and women as groups.”

    What this means is that if we were to, say, draw bell curves for a single trait (“Zness”) for both men and women, we might get two bell curves that were very wide, that significantly overlapped, but whose peaks might be slightly apart. Something like this image:

    This would fit the criteria for being more different “in-group” than “between-group,” but you could still say that women in general are more “Z” than men. That is, if you pick a completely random woman and a completely random man, the woman would be more likely to have a higher Z than the man.

    Of course, the point is still that this difference is small, and that there are plenty of each sex who are far more “Z” or less “Z” than the average of the other sex.

    1. Yes.  But since the idea that men and women are different is not exactly controversial the interesting result here is the degree of overlap, not the fact that the overlap isn’t 100%.

  6. It amazes me how this type of article always results in a barrage of “NOOO! Men and women ARE  totally different!!!” comments (reading the articles’ comments). You have to wonder why so many people are clearly horrified at the mere notion…

  7. Male human DNA is more similar to male bonobo DNA than it is to female human DNA.  That whole extra chromosome that males carry might be described as a species-level difference, were it not for our ability to interbreed across genders.  Having an entire extra chromosome surely contributes to significant variations in areas besides secondary sex characteristics.  

    Nevertheless, the current observation suggests our individual phenotypes exhibit greater variance than our normative inter-gender phenotypes.  I wonder whether this reflects more differences in DNA between individuals than the amount of DNA within the Y chromosome?

    1. That whole extra chromosome that males carry might be described as a species-level difference

      Not true at all. The presence of the Y chromosome simply changes the regulation of some hormones, and those hormones and their function are in fact fully specified in the other chromosomes. For example, if you are male, you actually have all the genes necessary to have a vagina. Look up “androgen insensitivity syndrome” — a person with XY chromosomes and complete AIS will have a vagina and grow breasts. You are the sex you are because of hormones, not because of a whole bunch of man-making genes on the (minuscule) Y chromosome

    2. “Male human DNA is more similar to male bonobo DNA than it is to female human DNA.” Maybe by a naive counting method that ignored the similarity between the two X chromosomes of someone who has two. If your claim is any stronger than that, I’d be interested to see the evidence.

    3. Extra? What extra chromosome? Human males and females have (generally) exactly the same amount of chromosomes. I guess you are talking about the Y chromosome… but then one would instead argue that (human) males have less genes than females. But it still doesn’t amount to “species-level difference”.

      1.  Men have more genes: some are only found on the Y chromosome.
        Men have fewer *copies* of some genes: only one copy of the genes on the X chromosome.  I’m conveniently ignoring Barr bodies here.

  8. I know someone who passionately claims that same-sex couples should never be allowed to adopt because men and women bring “specific strengths” to parenting that same-sex couples lack. He even claims that there’s a “growing body of research” that backs up this notion, although he’s always very evasive when it comes to actually citing any of this research.

    The results of this study are going to be tremendously upsetting to him, and I have to say I take a small amount of pleasure from that fact.

    1. You might want to ask also what these “specific strengths” are, exactly. The social workers doing home studies might want to check that the couple in question indeed have these “specific strengths”. Oh, and you could also ask what the difference would be then between single parents and same-sex parents wrt the “specific strengths”.

      I do agree that couples often bring different strengths to parenting (and different weaknesses, too)… but as individuals, not due to what we have between our legs.

      1. It’s funny you mention that because I have asked him what those “specific strengths” are. On one occasion he talked a little about how he behaves with his grandchildren, and I pointed out that using anecdotal data from his own experience doesn’t quality as providing evidence.

        Since then he’s been just as evasive about what the “specific strengths” are as he is about the sources of his “research”.

        In fairness to him, though I should have mentioned earlier that he only started becoming evasive about his sources after I pointed out that his only named source, Dr. Louann Brizendrine, is highly questionable at best, and isn’t applicable to the question of same-sex parenting anyway.

  9. I can’t begin to imagine what that second graph is supposed to represent. Why would it be so deeply multimodal? And I’m not sure the “women” line is even a function. I didn’t read the journal article, but I skimmed it — that graph isn’t there.

    1. It says in the caption right below:

      Assertiveness as based on self-reported measures of competitiveness, decisiveness, sense of superiority, persistence, confidence, and the ability to stand up under pressure does not show the same gender gap.

      It’s likely multimodal because it’s based on surveys and the surveys have fewer than 100 questions relating to assertiveness on them — that would force the response to show up in buckets when graphed against a percentage scale. The link to the original study is broken so I cannot check whether it’s actually there.

  10. 25 comments, and nobody mentions:  “The study was based on questionnaires, and the authors admit that the results may not encapsulate real-life actions completely, as people
    don’t always self-report accurately.”?

    Doesn’t this negate the findings?  I mean, I’m all for a fair society and maybe all my perceptions of differences between genders are predicated on false social constructs.  cool, let’s dismantle these social constructs.  but if the research is based on self-reporting, how is that factual?  everyone’s results are biased and non-objective.  further, what if the way the genders quantify, say, empathy is different?  a guy gives himself an empathy score of 10, but an equally empathetic woman scores herself as a 7, or vice-versa?  (leaving aside that there’s no objective way to say that these people are “equally empathetic,” but just to illustrate.)

    1. The tendency of the respondents in this thread to minimise gender differences might also be matched by the questionnaire respondents; self-reporting would be wildly susceptible to cultural expectations. I’d like to see the same study performed in say, Saudi Arabia.

      Or even just a poor suburb rather than around a university.

    2. let me google that for you:

      TL;DR, people who work with self-report data are aware of the problems and drawbacks of such data and work very fucking hard to control for it in studies like this.

      As pretty much any reasonable person would suspect. “Self-reported?! Doesn’t that mean it’s just bullshit?!” No, believe it or not people have been working on this problem for decades. Your snap judgment based on three seconds of non-thought is not useful to actual sociologists and psychologists.

      1. yes, but here the authors are saying THEMSELVES that they may have some level of BS because the way they did the study didn’t control for it much. 

  11. I have to say this doesn’t surprise me – the men and women have been able to interbreed for millennia, after all. ;)

  12. Another odd thing here is that the study says Women and Men don’t vary much on the Big Five personality traits by their gender.

    But “Because the Big Five traits are broad and comprehensive, they are not nearly as powerful in predicting and explaining actual behavior as are the more numerous lower-level traits. “

Comments are closed.