Bryan Caplan  

Is Gender a Big Deal?

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Many psychologists embrace the "gender similarities hypothesis" - the view that we tend to overstate the differences between men and women. My colleague Garett Jones pointed out a thorough meta-analysis by Janet Hyde, claiming that - with the exceptions of motor performance and sexuality - gender differences are quite small.

I'm not convinced. The evidence on cognitive abilities seems OK. But personality and preference measures, in contrast, are probably biased downards by reference group effects. If you ask men and woman how "emotional" they are, for example, at least some respondents will interpret it as "emotional compared to other members of my gender." If everyone did this, a big gap would look like no gap at all; if half of all people did this, a big gap would appear to be half of its actual size. (Yes, you can say the same for "happiness" too, though there are ways of coping with the problem).

Another problem is that Hyde's meta-analysis includes few studies the compare the genders on work, family, and interest attitudes. Steven Rhoads shows that these are very big.

The biggest problem, though, is that there is so little empirical work on gender identity per se. How often do you wear a dress? Go shopping with your mother? Say "Mad... what makes you think I'm mad?"? When most people say that men and women are very different, I suspect that these are some of the main differences they have in mind. And if you don't think they're important, I suggest you try ignoring them for a week, and see what happens!


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COMMENTS (9 to date)

It's much like race. Sure many differences are overstated, but it would seem most scholars influenced by political correctness seem to will the differences away. It's not that they don't exist, but they cannot possibly exist!

Scott Scheule writes:

I figured the common belief is not so much that gender differences don't exist, but rather that they don't innately exist. Rather, it's a matter of cultural absorption, as opposed to something genetic.

Eric Crampton writes:

I'd thought that, on Myers-Briggs, about 2/3 of males go thinking (vs feeling) compared to 1/3 of females. That seems likely to be important.

Troy Camplin writes:

Lou Marinoff talks about this issue at length in his new book "The Middle Way." I recommend it to anyone interested in this topic.

Steve Sailer writes:

Here's my 2002 review of Kingsley R. Browne's "Biology at Work: Rethinking Sexual Equality:"

http://www.isteve.com/2002_Biology_at_Work.htm

Browne's new book "Co-Ed Combat" is a barn-burner on just how big the differences between men and women are under the extreme (but crucial) circumstance of combat.

Neal Hockley writes:

Bryan
Just wondering if you've seen this recent paper from PNAS on Predicting political elections from rapid and unreflective face judgments:

http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/104/46/17948

Here we show that rapid judgments of competence based solely on the facial appearance of candidates predicted the outcomes of gubernatorial elections, the most important elections in the United States next to the presidential elections.


fun if nothing else.

Cheers

Neal

dearieme writes:

Do stop this absurd prudishness. You are discussing sex, not gender. These are people, not bloody pronouns.

Mark writes:

Are you talking about gender? As Scott ahead of me has pointed out, the real debate about gender is a nature versus nurture issue (that may not have been the case in works cited). To understand what "gender" really contributes to the thinking, emotions, and talents of individuals and groups would require filtering out data for which the the root cause could be 20 or 30 other things. How different genders respond to surveys would empirically represent fairly uncontrolled forms of research.

That said I do agree that gender does drive certain behaviors, thoughts, and abilities and I suspect that we may be suffering a reverse intellectual bias in trying to find confirmation of sameness and equality.

Meanwhile our economic system has either accomodated or forced women into direct competition with men in many fields, and with a few exceptions it seems that they do increasingly well. Of course today, women are going to college in numbers significantly greater than men, and some thinkers have wonder outloud, whether in some far off distant time women will lord over the men in asociety where requirements for success will increasingly favor women.

Troy Camplin writes:

Ever since my wife and I had our baby, I have wanted to work more, and at a better-paying job, and my wife (who has a M.A. in Organizational Development, which she has used to do social work and, most recently, teach Kindergarten) has wanted to quit her job and stay at home with the baby. So I would say that there is SOME sort of gender difference.

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