Bryan Caplan  

Modernity and the Gender Gap: It's Counter-Intutive

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A while back on blogged on the fascinating fact that the religious gender gap is bigger in more advanced societies. In societies where men and women are "socialized" to be the same, they are actually more religiously different. (In case you've never been to a church, it's women who are more religious).

Now a new piece in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reports that the religious gender gap is actually a special case of a much larger pattern: Personality gaps in general are bigger in more advanced societies. So are gaps height and blood pressure (!). The authors shoot down a bunch of bad explanations, and end with this speculation:

Like morphological and physiological features, sex differences in personality are vulnerable to restraining environmental pressures. As a society becomes more prosperous and more egalitarian, innate dispositional differences between men and women have more space to develop and the gap that exists between men and women in their personality traits becomes wider.
Frankly, I'm still pretty puzzled by these results. I suspect the reason, in part, is that personality tests rarely have questions that specifically get at gender identity. If these differences turn out to be smaller in less developed societies, I'll really have to rethink my mental picture of everyday life in the pre-modern world.


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COMMENTS (12 to date)
BGC writes:

These personality tests depend on self-report questionnaires (people answering questions about themselves).

My impression is that these tests work quite well within cultures, but perhaps do not work at all between dissimilar cultures (at least, the results between cultures seems unreliable and in some instances seem nonsensical).

This is in contrast to IQ tests which are testing an ability (not asking people about themselves) and which work between cultures just as well as within them.

At present, therefore, IMHO there are no good ways of comparing personality between societies or longitudinally. However, I think this will soon become possible, when the genetic basis of personality variation within-cultures is discovered.

Genetic information should enable development and refinement of the ways that personality is tested.

razib writes:

heritability on many traits goes up with SES or societal affluence. seems like a similar issue here; hard-wired differences between more salient when the environmental effects are fixed.

Jody writes:

How much of it is the fact that there is more room for "specialization" in a more advanced society which serves to strengthen personality differences?

Obviously there's more than that as there's physiological differences too...

Les writes:

As societies become more prosperous more choices become available to individuals, because they have more discretionary income. As opportunities for choices increase, it is not surprising that actual choices made by individuals also become more diverse.

So why would anyone assume the opposite to be true?

Horatio writes:

It seems women are less able to cope with advanced society than men are. Maybe this is because much of modern society is the product of male invention, but regardless, it means women in modern society will be relatively more primitive. If advanced social institutions are more conducive to male interactions, females will be drawn to primitive social instititions like religion.

liberty writes:

Perhaps it isn't so much a religion-gap as it is a practice-gap. Or, rather, the same underlying emotion is expressed in different actions.

I argue here (the post is partly inspired by Caplan's book) that it is the same drive that underlies our desire for socialism as our desire for religion. So, in this case, the longing is the same but men wage war and revolution while women go to chuch - men are more active, women more ponderous.

But, then, I'm a chick. So I would say that.

Andrew writes:

This shouldn't surprise a biologist. Any such recently mixed, well fed and promiscuous population will, after a generation or so, will start to display a larger variation in genotype. Reduced selection and hybrid vigour are one more possible explanation for these results.

Larry writes:

Gender roles are more tightly controlled in less-developed societies. I'll bet that personality diversity in general is much higher in less more developed societies.

Another bet is that women in developed countries are nearly as religious as those in LDCs, i.e., the big difference is that men are much less religious. The corollary is that men become less-connected in general as society develops, to religion, and as we're now seeing, to work, to family (women are usually the single parents), and even to bowling leagues...

Caliban Darklock writes:

Why hasn't anyone mentioned that this is obvious?

In more "advanced" societies, men and women have a greater opportunity to express individuality. Think about it; the more work you have to do yourself in your day to day life, the less time you have to invest in leisure activities.

Women view church as a leisure activity. It's a place you go to be harmonious and peaceful and everyone gets along. You get to see all your friends from the neighborhood, and reaffirm that you have fundamentally the same beliefs about right and wrong, which means you can trust these people around your children.

Men view church as a chore. You have to dress up and listen to some boring old fart complain about the Galatians and the Sadducees and the Philadelphians for three hours. Then you have to put money in the collection plate, shake hands with people you don't like, and pretend you actually enjoy wasting your weekend like this.

Why is anyone surprised that when given a choice in the matter, men generally prefer not to go?

I'm pretty sure that if you did a study, you'd find that men in advanced societies who do attend church have voluntarily changed religion since childhood.

8 writes:

And then there are those who say modern Christianity is feminized.
http://www.amazon.com/Church-Impotent-Feminization-Christianity/dp/1890626198

The orthodox religions are growing fastest, what's the male-female split for those?

razib writes:

The orthodox religions are growing fastest, what's the male-female split for those?

similar. the feminization of liberal religion has more to do with skews in the clerisy, not the rank & file.

Patri Friedman writes:

Doesn't razib's argument depend on whether the gaps are absolute or normalized by variation of that trait in the country? It's a tautology that equalizing environment will increase genetic variation as a proportion of total variation, but only because you are shrinking the divisor. Normalizing environment doesn't increase absolute genetic variation.

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