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Are Gender Gaps Widening?

Posted By Holly Buchanan On September 26, 2008 @ 5:17 am In Marketing to Women | 7 Comments

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 [1], the opposite is happening - gender gaps are widening.

When men and women take personality tests, some of the old Mars [2]-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 [3].   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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URLs in this post:

[1] New York Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/09/science/09tier.html?_r=1&ei=5070&emc=eta1&oref=slogin

[2] Mars: http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/science/topics/mars_planet/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier

[3] challenges to the results: http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/

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