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Friday, Sep. 26, 2008 at 5:17 am

Are Gender Gaps Widening?

By Holly Buchanan
September 26th, 2008

With so many societal advances, with men and women playing more equal roles (we don’t have equality yet, but we’re certainly closer than we’ve been in the past) I would have put down money on the fact that the gender gap was decreasing, or that women were taking on more male traits, certainly.

According to a New York Times article, the opposite is happening - gender gaps are widening.

When men and women take personality tests, some of the old Mars-Venus stereotypes keep reappearing. On average, women are more cooperative, nurturing, cautious and emotionally responsive. Men tend to be more competitive, assertive, reckless and emotionally flat. Clear differences appear in early childhood and never disappear.

To test these hypotheses, a series of research teams have repeatedly analyzed personality tests taken by men and women in more than 60 countries around the world. For evolutionary psychologists, the bad news is that the size of the gender gap in personality varies among cultures. For social-role psychologists, the bad news is that the variation is going in the wrong direction. It looks as if personality differences between men and women are smaller in traditional cultures like India’s or Zimbabwe’s than in the Netherlands or the United States.

Wow – what’s going on here?   I would have thought with so many women in more progressive countries breaking out of traditional roles, women would take on more traditionally male traits.    But the report has a different theory:

The biggest changes recorded by the researchers involve the personalities of men, not women. Men in traditional agricultural societies and poorer countries seem more cautious and anxious, less assertive and less competitive than men in the most progressive and rich countries of Europe and North America.

There are lots of other theories floating around, as well as challenges to the results.   But it brings up an important point for marketers.  You’re still going to have to be aware of male vs. female communication styles.   Even if outward appearances might suggest the two genders are coming closer together, the truth may be that they’re actually still far apart.

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Comments (7)

  1. Sounds like basic anthropology to me. Personally, I think this observational study would be far more interesting — and conclusive — had they compared testosterone level of both men and women in all the countries they looked at. In fact, it’s a bit absurd that they didn’t. We already know that biology has much to do with it.

    Regardless, this says more about a so-called gender gap between men and men, or mwomen and women, across various cultures than it does about trends within the cultures themselves. There’s no evidence any way one slices it that a gap — any gap is “widening”; just that there is a gap, and we’ve only just managed to observe it on face value.

    [opens fresh can of worms]

  2. Why is it assumed that a gap is a bad thing? Maybe, just maybe, nature intends diversity since the sexes of any mammal are physiologically… diverse.

    It’s possible that men will do whatever it takes in their locale to be more “assertive” and “competitive” than their female counterparts, and not too much more. Not to take the wind out of very welcome boons for equality which have come to pass, but after studying nature for long enough you start to realize some things will never change; only escalate if and when necessary to maintain a diversity which makes the world a fairly balanced place, all other planets considered.

  3. Is this just another case of confusing equality with sameness?

  4. I believe the gap will never closen to much, men and woman are just so different.

    Men just seem to have more go in them in general. though there are some things woman will always be better than a man, but those are not the things that are needed when trying to succeed in something.

  5. Not to take the wind out of very welcome boons for equality which have come to pass, but after studying nature for long enough you start to realize some things will never change; only escalate if and when necessary to maintain a diversity which makes the world a fairly balanced place, all other planets considered.

  6. Not really, I don’t think they are widening at all.

  7. There are so many reasons in addition to communication gap.The rituals advocated thousands years back may not be valid today since attitude and culture of the people underwent a lot of changes.

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Holly Buchanan is a marketing to women consultant specializing in marketing to women online. You can read her blog at http://marketingtowomenonline.typepad.com She is the co-author, along with Michele Miller of The Soccer Mom Myth - Today's Female Consumer - Who She Really Is, Why She Really Buys.

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