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Harder Won and Easier Lost? Testing the Double Standard in Gender Rules in 62 Countries

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Precarious manhood theory posits a double standard in gender rules such that prescriptions (“shoulds”) and proscriptions (“should nots”) are endorsed more strongly for men than for women. Here, we tested this hypothesis by asking whether people view agency as more desirable in men than communion is in women, and weakness as less desirable in men than dominance is in women. Data from college undergraduates in 62 countries (N = 27,343) indicated that: (1) measures of agency, communion, weakness, and dominance are psychometrically comparable across countries; (2) prescriptions (agency for men, communion for women) are variable across countries, whereas proscriptions (weakness for men, dominance for women) appear universal; (3) double standards in prescriptions (men’s agency as more desirable than women’s communion) are larger in countries lower in gender equality and human development, whereas double standards in proscriptions (men’s weakness as less desirable than women’s dominance) do not covary with country-level factors; and (4) these patterns are moderated by participant gender in nuanced ways, and are robust to control by individual-level gender beliefs. Discussion considers the theoretical and practical significance of these findings for understanding how young adults – as cultural agents of gender socialization – hold men to asymmetrically rigid gender rules.

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This study was preregistered at Open Science Framework ( as part of a larger preregistered study of gender beliefs across countries ( The results presented in this paper are part of a larger project entitled “Towards Gender Harmony” (www.towardsgenderharmony), which involves many wonderful collaborators who helped collect the data. Here, we acknowledge our University of Gdańsk Research Assistants team for their assistance with programming the surveys and coordinating the collection of data at all sites: Jurand Sobiecki, Agata Bizewska, Mariya Amiroslanova, Aleksandra Głobińska, Andy Milewski, Piotr Piotrowski, Stanislav Romanov, Aleksandra Szulc, and Olga Żychlińska.


This research was funded by the National Science Centre in Poland [Grant 2017/26/M/HS6/00360] awarded to Natasza Kosakowska-Berezecka.

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Correspondence to Jennifer K. Bosson.

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All research involving human participants received approval from each primary researcher’s university IRB (or relevant ethical oversight committee) and was conducted following all guidelines for ethical treatment of human participants.

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Bosson, J.K., Wilkerson, M., Kosakowska-Berezecka, N. et al. Harder Won and Easier Lost? Testing the Double Standard in Gender Rules in 62 Countries. Sex Roles 87, 1–19 (2022).

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