The relationship between gender and memory has been largely neglected by research, despite occasional studies reporting gender differences in episodic memory performance. The present study examined potential gender differences in episodic memory, semantic memory, primary memory, and priming. Five hundred thirty women and 470 men, randomly sampled from the city of Umeå, Sweden, 35–80 years of age, participated in the study. There were no differences between men and women with regard to age or education, or on a measure of global intellectual functioning. As has been demonstrated previously, men outperformed women on a visuospatial task and women outperformed men on tests of verbal fluency. In addition, the results demonstrated that women consistently performed at a higher level than did men on the episodic memory tasks, although there were no differences between men and women on the tasks assessing semantic memory, primary memory, or priming. The women’s higher level of performance on the episodic memory tasks could not be fully explained by their higher verbal ability.
Bäckman, L., &Nilsson, L.-G. (1996). Semantic memory functioning across the adult life span.European Psychologist,1, 27–33.
Baddeley, A. D., Lewis, V., Eldridge, M., &Thomson, N. (1984). Attention and retrieval from long-term memory.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,113, 518–540.
Bolla-Wilson, K., &Bleecker, M. L. (1986). Influence of verbal intelligence, sex, age, and education on the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test.Developmental Neuropsychology,2, 203–211.
Cohen, R. L. (1981). On the generality of some memory laws.Scandinavian Journal of Psychology,22, 267–282.
Craik, F. I. M., &Jennings, J. M. (1992). Human memory. In F. I. M. Craik & T. A. Salthouse (Eds.),The handbook of aging and cognition (pp. 51–110). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Dureman, I. (1960).SRB:1. Stockholm: Psykologiförlaget.
Eals, M., &Silverman, I. (1994). The hunter-gatherer theory of spatial sex differences: Proximate factors mediating the female advantage in recall of object arrays.Ethology & Sociobiology,15, 95–105.
Erngrund, K., Mäntylä, T., &Nilsson, L.-G. (1996). Adult age differences in source recall: A population-based study.Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences,51B, P335-P345.
Folstein, M. F., Folstein, S. E., &McHugh, P. R. (1975). “Mini-Mental State”: A practical method for grading the cognitive state of the patient for the clinician.Journal of Psychiatric Research,12, 189–198.
Galea, L. A. M., &Kimura, D. (1993). Sex differences in routelearning.Personality & Individual Differences,14, 53–65.
Geffen, G., Moar, K. J., O’Hanlon, A. P., Clark, C. R., &Geffen, L. B. (1990). Performance measures of 16- to 86-year-old males and females on the Auditory Verbal Learning Test.Clinical Neuropsychologist,4, 45–63.
Gur, R. C., Mozley, P. D., Resnick, S. M., Gottlieb, G. E., Kohn, M., Zimmerman, R., Herman, G., Atlas, S., Grossman, R., Berretta, D., Erwin, R., &Gur, R. E. (1991). Gender differences in age effect on brain atrophy measured by magnetic resonance imaging.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,88, 2845–2849.
Halpern, D. F. (1992).Sex differences in cognitive abilities (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Hart, R. P., &O’Shanick, G. J. (1993). Forgetting rates for verbal, pictorial, and figural stimuli.Journal of Clinical & Experimental Neuropsychology,15, 245–265.
Hill, R. D., Grut, M., Wahlin, Å., Herlitz, A., Winblad, B., &Bäckman, L. (1995). Predicting memory performance in optimally healthy very old adults.Journal of Mental Health & Aging,1, 55–65.
Hulter-Åsberg, K. (1984). The common language of Katz’s index of ADL in six studies of aged and disabled patients.Scandinavian Journal of Cardiac Science,2, 171–178.
Hultsch, D. F., Masson, M. E. J., &Small, B. J. (1991). Adult age differences in direct and indirect tests of memory.Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences,46, 22–30.
Hyde, J. S., &Linn, M. C. (1988). Gender differences in verbal ability: A meta-analysis.Psychological Bulletin,104, 53–69.
Kausler, D. H., &Hakami, M. K. (1983). Memory for activities: Adult age differences and intentionality.Developmental Psychology,19, 889–894.
Larrabee, G. J., &Crook, T. H. (1993). Do men show more rapid age-associated decline in simulated everyday verbal memory than do women?Psychology & Aging,8, 68–71.
Lehrner, J. P. (1993). Gender differences in long-term odor recognition memory: Verbal versus sensory influences and the consistency of label use.Chemical Senses,18, 17–26.
Linn, M. C., &Petersen, A. C. (1986). A meta-analysis of gender differences in spatial ability: Implications for mathematics and science achievement. In J. S. Hyde & M. C. Linn (Eds.),The psychology of gender: Advances through meta-analysis (pp. 67–101). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Maccoby, E. E., &Jacklin, C. N. (1974).The psychology of sex differences. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
McKelvie, S. J., Standing, L., St. Jean, D., &Law, J. (1993). Gender differences in recognition memory for faces and cars: Evidence for the interest hypothesis.Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society,31, 447–448.
Nilsson, L.-G., Bäckman, L., Erngrund, K., Nyberg, L., Adolfsson, R., Bucht, G., Karlsson, S., Widing, M., &Winblad, B. (1997). The Betula prospective cohort study: Memory, health, and aging.Aging, Neuropsychology, & Cognition,4, 1–32.
Nyberg, L., Bäckman, L., Erngrund, K., Olofsson, U., &Nilsson, L.-G. (1996). Age differences in episodic memory, semantic memory, and priming: Relationships to demographic, intellectual, and biological factors.Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences,51B, P234-P240.
Olofsson, M., &Bäckman, L. (1996). Influences of intentionality at encoding and retrieval on memory in adulthood and old age.Aging/ Clinical & Experimental Research,8, 42–46.
Perris, C. (1984a). Life events and depression: Part 1. Effect of sex, age, and civil status.Journal of Affective Disorders,7, 11–24.
Perris, C. (1984b). Life events and depression: Part 2. Results in diagnostic subgroups, and in relation to the recurrence of depression.Journal of Affective Disorders,7, 25–36.
Perris, C. (1984c). Life events and depression: Part 3. Relation to severity of the depression syndrome.Journal of Affective Disorders,7, 37–44.
Rabbitt, P., Donlan, C., Watson, P., McInnes, L., &Bent, N. (1995). Unique and interactive effects of depression, age, socioeconomic advantage, and gender on cognitive performance of normal healthy older people.Psychology & Aging,10, 307–313.
Rosenthal, R. (1991).Meta-analytic procedures for social research (rev. ed.). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Ruff, R. M., Light, R. H., &Quayhagen, M. (1988). Selective reminding tests: A normative study of verbal learning in adults.Journal of Clinical & Experimental Neuropsychology,11, 539–550.
Schacter, D. L., Harbluk, J. L., &MacLachlan, D. R. (1984). Retrieval without recollection: An experimental analysis of source amnesia.Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior,23, 593–611.
Schacter, D. L., &Tulving, E. (1994). What are the memory systems of 1994? In D. L. Schacter & E. Tulving (Eds.),Memory systems 1994 (pp. 1–38). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Schaie, K. W., &Willis, S. L. (1993). Age difference patterns of psychometric intelligence in adulthood: Generalizability within and across ability domains.Psychology & Aging,8, 44–55.
Shepherd, J. (1981). Social factors in face recognition. In G. Davis, H. Ellis, & J. Shepherd (Eds.),Perceiving and remembering faces (pp. 55–79). New York: Academic Press.
Silverman, I., &Eals, M. (1992). Sex differences in spatial abilities: Evolutionary theory and data. In J. Barkow, L. Cosmides, & J. Tooby (Eds.),The adapted mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture (pp. 487–503). New York: Oxford University Press.
Statistiska Centralbyrån (1985). Betolkningens utbildningsnivå [Level of education for the population]. Örebro, Sweden: Author.
Temple, C. M., &Cornish, K. M. (1993). Recognition memory for words and faces in schoolchildren: A female advantage for words.British Journal of Developmental Psychology,11, 421–426.
Tulving, E. (1983).Elements of episodic memory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Tulving, E. (1993). Human memory. In P. Andersen, O. Hvalby, O. Paulsen, & B. Hökfelt (Eds.),Memory concepts: Basic and clinical aspects (pp. 27–46). Amsterdam: Elsevier.
Tulving, E., &Colotla, V. (1970). Free recall of trilingual lists.Cognitive Psychology,1, 86–98.
Wahlin, Å., Bäckman, L., Mäntylä, T., Herlitz, A., Viitanen, M., &Winblad, B. (1993). Prior knowledge and face recognition in a community-based sample of healthy, very old adults.Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences,48, 54–61.
Wechsler, D. (1981).Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Revised: Manual. New York: Psychological Corporation.
West, R. L., Crook, T. H., &Barron, K. L. (1992). Everyday memory performance across the life span: Effects of age and noncognitive individual differences.Psychology & Aging,7, 72–82.
Zelinski, E. M., Gilewski, M. J., &Schaie, K. W. (1993). Individual differences in cross-sectional and 3-year longitudinal memory performance across the adult life span.Psychology & Aging,8, 176–186.
This research was supported by grants from the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation, the Swedish Council for Planning and Coordination of Research, the Swedish Council for Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences, the Swedish Council for Social Research, and the Swedish Medical Research Council.
About this article
Cite this article
Herlitz, A., Nilsson, L. & Bäckman, L. Gender differences in episodic memory. Memory & Cognition 25, 801–811 (1997). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03211324
- Gender Difference
- Face Recognition
- Free Recall
- Episodic Memory
- Mental Rotation