Men and Women: The Real Psychological Differences

Reader’s Question

I’ve heard very different opinions about the so-called differences between men and women. Some say that there are really no differences, just cultural stereotypes. Others say men and women are really different. On a psychological level, what’s the evidence that men and women are the same or different?

Psychologist’s Reply

For a long while, it wasn’t really safe or politically correct to talk about male-female differences. That’s because longstanding beliefs about differences between men and women were based on stereotypes that fueled discriminatory treatment in the workplace, academic settings, etc. But it seems to be becoming increasingly safe to talk about male-female differences again. Suspected differences are now being studied more scientifically. As a result, there have been many different findings but as yet no clear consensus.

Meta-analytic studies have shown that 75-80 percent of all of the variables studied showed little or no differences between men and women. So, the data largely suggest that for the most part, men and women are much more alike than they are different. But on approximately 20 percent of the variables studied, differences do appear to exist between men and women, although the exact nature of those differences is still up for debate.

Some recent findings with respect to the psychological functioning of both sexes suggest:

  • Men tend to think more globally, while women tend to focus more on details and subtleties.
  • Men tend to take risks and experiment when they create or build, while women tend to guard the most valuable knowledge they find and pass it on.
  • Men tend to be more independent in their thinking whereas women are more willing to cooperate.
  • Women tend to make lower self-appraisals than men.
  • Men tend to find more satisfaction in career and prosperity, while women tend to value their families more.
  • Men tend to prioritize their personal goals, while women tend to prioritize relationships.
  • Men tend to get sick more than women, but women tend to be more concerned with their health than men.
  • Women tend to handle monotony and endure hardship and pain better than men.

One caveat: Fair, unbiased, scientific study of the true differences between men and women is in its infancy. It will be some time before scientists reach a consensus about whether significant differences between men and women really exist and to what extent cultural vs. genetic factors account for the differences.

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