Sex Differences in Personality Traits and Gender-Related Occupational Preferences across 53 Nations: Testing Evolutionary and Social-Environmental Theories

Abstract

Using data from over 200,000 participants from 53 nations, I examined the cross-cultural consistency of sex differences for four traits: extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, and male-versus-female-typical occupational preferences. Across nations, men and women differed significantly on all four traits (mean ds = −.15, −.56, −.41, and 1.40, respectively, with negative values indicating women scoring higher). The strongest evidence for sex differences in SDs was for extraversion (women more variable) and for agreeableness (men more variable). United Nations indices of gender equality and economic development were associated with larger sex differences in agreeableness, but not with sex differences in other traits. Gender equality and economic development were negatively associated with mean national levels of neuroticism, suggesting that economic stress was associated with higher neuroticism. Regression analyses explored the power of sex, gender equality, and their interaction to predict men’s and women’s 106 national trait means for each of the four traits. Only sex predicted means for all four traits, and sex predicted trait means much more strongly than did gender equality or the interaction between sex and gender equality. These results suggest that biological factors may contribute to sex differences in personality and that culture plays a negligible to small role in moderating sex differences in personality.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In analyses of data from 57 cultures, McCrae (2002) reported that correlations between men’s and women’s SDs for NEO facets ranged from .42 to .88, across cultures, with a median value of .68 (see also McCrae et al., 2005b). This suggests that not only do trait means vary in consistent ways across cultures, but trait variances do as well. In explaining these results, McCrae (2002) wrote, “It is not yet clear whether the consistency is due to the culture or to the language. In the Filipino subsamples, facet SDs were, on average, 14% larger when the NEO-PI-R was administered in Filipino than when it was administered in English” (p. 114).

  2. 2.

    To probe the impact of other dimensions of cultural variation, I also analyzed national scores on Hofstede’s (1991) four cultural dimensions: power distance (the acceptance of unequal distributions of power in organizations and institutions), individualism versus collectivism, masculinity versus femininity (instrumental versus communal values in work-related settings), and uncertainty avoidance (the degree to which members of various cultures are uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity). Hofstede (1991) presents scores on these dimensions for 50 nations, 40 of which overlapped with the nations assessed in the current study (see also Hofstede & Hofstede, 2005; Peabody, 1999).

    When nations’ scores on Hofstede’s four cultural dimensions were correlated with the UN gender and economic development scores used in the current study, correlations were high for two of Hofstede’s dimensions: power distance and individualism/collectivism. Specifically, the Hofstede power dimension correlated −.58 with UN gender development, −.68 with UN gender empowerment, −.36 with life expectancy, and −.70 with per capita income (all ps < .001 expect for the third, which was <.05), and individualism/collectivism dimension correlated with the same indices .62, .73, .36, and .75 (p values the same as before). These generally strong correlations imply that nations high on gender equality and economic development tended also to be individualistic nations that had relatively low inequality in their organizational power distributions—findings that are consistent with the results of other studies (see Hofstede & Hofstede, 2005; McCauley, Ottati, & Lee, 1999). The other two Hofstede dimensions—masculinity-femininity and uncertainty avoidance—were not significantly related to UN or economic indices, nor were they related much to sex differences in personality.

    Because of the strong overlap between the Hofstede power distance and individualism/collectivism dimensions and the other indices assessed in the current study, I report here only results for the UN gender equality and economic development indices. The fact that two of the Hofstede dimensions correlated strongly with the UN gender equality and economic development measures lends some ambiguity to the proper interpretation of the cultural dimension that is tapped by the UN measures. On the other hand, the strong intercorrelation of these four quite different measures suggests that the dimension of cultural variation that is being assessed in common by all four measures is a fundamental one.

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Acknowledgment

I am grateful to BBC TV Science for commissioning this research, and to the BBC Science and Nature website for programming and hosting the study.

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Correspondence to Richard A. Lippa.

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Lippa, R.A. Sex Differences in Personality Traits and Gender-Related Occupational Preferences across 53 Nations: Testing Evolutionary and Social-Environmental Theories. Arch Sex Behav 39, 619–636 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-008-9380-7

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Keywords

  • BBC Internet study
  • Big Five traits
  • Culture
  • Gender-related interests
  • Gender roles
  • Personality
  • Sex differences