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.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
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).
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.
Archer, J., & Mehdikhani, M. (2003). Variability among males in sexually selected attributes. Review of General Psychology, 7, 219–236.
Baumeister, R. F., & Twenge, J. M. (2002). Cultural suppression of female sexuality. Review of General Psychology, 6, 166–203.
Benet-Martínez, V., & John, O. P. (1998). Los cinco grandes across cultures and ethnic groups: Multitrait multimethod analysis of the Big Five in Spanish and English. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 729–750.
Buss, D. M. (1999). Evolutionary psychology: The new science of the mind. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Buss, D. M. (2005). Sex differences in the design features of socially contingent mating adaptations. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28, 278–279.
Cejka, M. A., & Eagly, A. H. (1999). Gender-stereotypic images of occupations correspond to the sex segregation of employment. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25, 413–423.
Cohen, J. (1977). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (rev. ed.). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Costa, P. T., Terracciano, A., & McCrae, R. R. (2001). Gender differences in personality across cultures: Robust and surprising results. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 322–331.
Eagly, A. H. (1995). The science and politics of comparing women and men. American Psychologist, 50, 145–158.
Eagly, A. H., & Wood, W. (1999). The origins of sex differences in human behavior: Evolved dispositions versus social roles. American Psychologist, 54, 408–423.
Eagly, A. H., & Wood, W. (2005). Universal sex differences across patriarchal cultures ≠ evolved psychological dispositions. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28, 281–283.
Eagly, A. H., Wood, W., & Diekman, A. B. (2000). Social role theory of sex differences and similarities: A current appraisal. In T. Eckes & H. M. Trautner (Eds.), The developmental social psychology of gender (pp. 123–174). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Feingold, A. (1994). Gender differences in personality: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 116, 429–456.
Gangestad, S. W., & Simpson, J. A. (2000). The evolution of human mating: Trade-offs and strategic pluralism. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 23, 573–644.
Guimond, S., Branscombe, N. R., Brunot, S., Buunk, A. P., Chatard, A., Desert, M., et al. (2007). Culture, gender, and the self: Variations and impact of social comparison processes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 1118–1134.
Hines, M. (2004). Brain gender. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hofstede, G. (1991). Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind. London: McGraw-Hill.
Hofstede, G., & Hofstede, G. J. (2005). Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Kohlberg, L. (1966). A cognitive-developmental analysis of children’s sex role concepts and attitudes. In E. E. Maccoby (Ed.), The development of sex differences (pp. 82–173). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Langlois, J. H., & Downs, D. (1980). Mothers, fathers and peers as socialization agents of sex-typed play behavior in young children. Child Development, 51, 1217–1247.
Lippa, R. (1998). Gender-related individual difference and the structure of vocational interests: The importance of the “People-Things” dimension. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 996–1009.
Lippa, R. A. (2001). On deconstructing and reconstructing masculinity-femininity. Journal of Research in Personality, 35, 168–207.
Lippa, R. A. (2005). Gender, nature, and nurture (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Lippa, R. A. (2007). The preferred traits of mates in a cross-national study of heterosexual and homosexual men and women: An examination of biological and cultural influences. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36, 198–208.
Lippa, R. A. (2008). Sex differences and sexual orientation differences in personality: Findings from the BBC Internet survey. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 37, 173–187.
Lippa, R. A. (in press). Sex differences in sex drive, sociosexuality, and height across 53 nations: Testing evolutionary and social structural theories. Archives of Sexual Behavior.
Lipsey, M. W., & Wilson, D. B. (1993). The efficacy of psychological, educational, and behavioral treatment: Confirmation from meta-analysis. American Psychologist, 48, 1181–1209.
Lytton, H., & Romney, D. M. (1991). Parents’ differential socialization of boys and girls: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 109, 267–296.
Martin, C. L., Ruble, D. N., & Szkrybalo, J. (2002). Cognitive theories of early gender development. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 903–933.
McCauley, C., Ottati, V., & Lee, Y. (1999). National differences in economic growth: The role of personality and culture. In Y. Lee, C. R. McCauley, & J. G. Draguns (Eds.), Personality and person perception across cultures (pp. 85–100). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
McCrae, R. R. (2002). NEO-PI-R data from 36 cultures: Further intercultural comparisons. In R. R. McCrae & J. Allik (Eds.), The five-factor models of personality across cultures (pp. 105–128). New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.
McCrae, R. R., Terracciano, A., & 79 members of the Personality Profiles of Cultures Project. (2005a). Universal features of personality traits from the observer’s perspective: Data from 50 cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 547–561.
McCrae, R. R., Terracciano, A., & 79 members of the Personality Profiles of Cultures Project. (2005b). Personality profiles of cultures: Aggregate personality traits. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 407–425.
Moffit, T. E., Caspi, A., Rutter, M., & Silva, P. A. (2001). Sex differences in antisocial behavior. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Peabody, D. (1999). National characteristics: Dimensions for comparison. In Y. Lee, C. R. McCauley, & J. G. Draguns (Eds.), Personality and person perception across cultures (pp. 65–84). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Prediger, D. J. (1982). Dimensions underlying Holland’s hexagon: Missing link between interests and occupations? Journal of Vocational Behavior, 21, 259–287.
Reimers, S. (2007). The BBC sex differences study: General methodology. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36, 147–166.
Ruble, D. N., & Martin, C. L. (1998). Gender development. In W. Damon & N. Eisenberg (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology (5th ed., Vol. 3): Social, emotional, and personality development (pp. 993–1016). New York: John Wiley.
Schmitt, D. P. (2005). Sociosexuality from Argentina to Zimbabwe: A 48-nation study of sex, culture, and strategies of human mating. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28, 247–311.
Schmitt, D. P., Realo, A., Voracek, M., & Allik, J. (2008). Why can’t a man be more like a woman? Sex differences in Big Five personality traits across 55 cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94, 168–182.
Snyder, M. (1981). On the self-perpetuating nature of social stereotypes. In D. L. Hamilton (Ed.), Cognitive processes in stereotyping and intergroup behavior (pp. 183–212). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Swann, W. B. (1999). Resilient identities: Self-relationships and the construction of social reality. New York: Basic Books.
Tellegen, A. (1982). Brief manual for the Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota.
Tracey, T. J. G., & Rounds, J. (1993). Evaluating Holland’s and Gati’s vocational interest models: A structural meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 113, 229–246.
Williams, J. E., & Best, D. L. (1990). Measuring sex stereotypes: A multi-nation study. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Wood, W., & Eagly, A. H. (2002). A cross-cultural analysis of the behavior of men and women: Implications for the origins of sex differences. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 699–727.
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.
About this article
Cite this article
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
- BBC Internet study
- Big Five traits
- Gender-related interests
- Gender roles
- Sex differences