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Are there Known Gender Differences?

Updated on January 23, 2013
Gender - What makes us different?
Gender - What makes us different? | Source

Are there really any gender differences?

We know that there are differences between the genders, yes, but there are also differences between men and other men, and women and other women. The important question is whether there are really any natural differences between men and women, and whether these differences should mean that we take on particular roles.

Should women be more submissive, caring and social and men be more aggressive, competitive and dominant? Or are these just roles enforced upon us by society?

Read the following summaries of experiments to do with gender differences and decide for yourself.

This online writer at least, believes that although there are minute natural differences between men and women, they are not enough to dictate what lives we should lead.

Buss’ Experiment

Buss conducted an experiment using both men and women from 37 countries across all continents – their task was to rate how important particular traits were in a potential mating partner.

The results were that the men in every country rated:

  • Youthfulness,
  • Appearance
  • Chastity

higher than the women.

This can be explained in evolutionary terms: men would want young and beautiful (beauty being an indicator for healthiness) women so that they could better birth and then care for a child. A faithful partner is also important for a man because if she gets pregnant with another man then he would be raising a child who’s genes are not his own. Spreading your genes is, of course, what evolution drives.

Women in turn, rated:

  • Wealth
  • Industriousness
  • Reliability

higher than the men did.

This could be explained by the idea that women would want stability with a man – he won’t leave her and can be relied upon to support the family in the long run.

Evaluation: Although the findings were clear, Buss used a questionnaire containing pre-set questions and answers which did not include the choice for other answers that Buss may have missed out.

Giving pre-set answers encourages people into a particular way of thinking, making the results unreliable.

Mead’s New Guinea Experiment (1935)

Mead was a psychologist who spent a whole 6 months with tribes living in New Guinea.

In the Arapesh Tribe – both men and women had predominantly feminine traits: they were all caring, expressive and co-operative with each other. The men would also join their pregnant partner in bed when they birth the child.

In the Mundugamor Tribe – both men and women exhibited male characteristics: assertive, arrogant and fierce. Both sexes disliked childcare and by Western standards would neglect their children.

In the Tchambuli Tribe, gender roles are reverse to the way we know them in the West – females would be more independent than the males, who would sit and talk with each other whilst preening. Much like the females in the West, the males in this tribe were considered sentimental and incapable of making rational decisions.

Criticisms – Mead has been heavily criticised for underplaying similarities between the people of the tribes and the people of the West. In all tribes, even in the Tchambuli tribe, men showed to be more aggressive and did most of the fighting during wars with other tribes.

The similarities in the first two tribes was also apparently exaggerated to support her own biased views.

Research Study: Fagot (1978)

  • Fagot studied 24 families and looked for the relationship between parents and their children whilst focussing on gender roles. Each family was observed for 5 hours in one hour intervals.
  • The conclusions: parents reacted more positively to their children when they did things associated with their gender and more negatively when they didn’t e.g. girls were scolded for being too active.
  • Therefore it seems that the pre-existing stereotypes of parents to some extent reinforce gender roles into their children.

Criticisms of Fagot’s Research

  • Parents knew they were being watched and therefore their interactions with their children would not be natural. In fact, most likely the parents were acting in a way that they thought society would want them to act – this could explain the gender role reinforcement since society makes it very clear how boys and girls should behave.

Additional Notes: Interestingly, Furnham and Farragher also compared their results with the earlier experiment on advertising made by Manstead and McCulloch (1981), finding that there is less stereotyping in 2000 than there was in 1981.

Furnham and Farragher repeated their experiment in New Zealand and found different stereotype roles than they did in the UK – suggesting the roles are societal and not natural.

Furnham and Farragher (2000)

Demonstrated that sex-role stereotypes are commonly used in British television advertising. 200+ tv adverts were analysed and the sex of the central figure of the advert, his or her role, the product being sold and the sex of the voice over voice.

Roles - Men were most commonly shown as independent roles like professional workers and celebrities whilst women were shown to be presented in familial roles – mothers and homemakers.

Locations – Men found themselves on holiday, relaxing in expensive ways or at the workplace whilst women found themselves at home.

This suggests that men are incapable of running a home and raising children whilst women are less involved in working and spending money on leisurely activities

Products – Men sold motoring products whilst women sold household and body products.

Character – Men were more likely to be presented as humorous.

Voiceovers - 70% of voiceovers were male, suggesting that women are not seen as having the same authority to sell products as men.

Weaknesses of Furnham and Farragher’s Findings

- Even if the adverts are showing stereotypes, it doesn’t mean that anyone is actually buying into them. In fact, absolutely everyone could disagree with these gender roles and see these adverts as a parody of inequality elsewhere or in past generations.

- Views also accept that the adverts are not made by academics but rather by marketers playing on their minds in order to buy products.

Gender Differences Change Over Time - Not Nature

Other Research in Brief

The following are other recent studies conducted in brief. Their details are omitted so that their conclusions are clear and memorable.

Best et Al. (1994)

  • French and Italian fathers played more with their children than the children’s mothers. German fathers and mothers on the other hand would do the opposite.

Pontius (1997)

Studied children in Pakistani schools and found no difference in spatial skills between the sexes, countering the popular idea that women have naturally worse spatial skills.

Roscoe (1998)

Studied Native American tribes – found a third sex among many tribes which took upon itself both (in our eyes) male and female gender roles. They also had their own set of unique traits and therefore were seen as the third gender by Native Tribes.

Sugihara and Katsurada (1999)

Used Bem’s inventory to test Japanese students and found that both the males and females scored high on femininity.

Do you agree or disagree to the idea that men and women have predetermined natural roles in society?

See results


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    • Philanthropy2012 profile image

      DK 5 years ago from London


      I thought similar, I thought that perhaps in our most primitive societies men reigned dominant because they were physically stronger and could get what they want through force. Now though, using force to get what you want is largely illegal and strength no longer applies. This simple change perhaps is the reason for why men and women are now equal.

    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 5 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      There are many well known gender differences in humanity, but those differences no long carry the importance they once did. The increased size, strength, speed and testosterone fueled aggression of the male, for instance, has vastly decreased in importance with increasing technology. They are no longer as needed for either individual or group survival or reproduction.