Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, right? There is no shortage of books, articles and the like that have highlighted the differences that exist between men and women, and indeed I’ve produced a couple on this blog myself.
A recent study from academics at Iowa State University suggests we may be barking up the wrong tree, however, and that the sexes have a whole lot more in common than we like to think.
The authors conducted a meta analysis of over 100 different studies on gender differences, with the combined sample from all of the studies totalling over 12 million participants. The results suggest that the actual differences between the sexes are not as large as stereotypes would have us believe.
Indeed, the paper found that there is around 80 percent overlap for 75 percent of the core psychological character traits, whether that’s morality, risk taking or even occupational stress. In other words, the differences really aren’t that big.
"This is important because it suggests that when it comes to most psychological attributes, we are relatively similar to one another as men and women," the authors say. "This was true regardless of whether we looked at cognitive domains, such as intelligence; social personality domains, such as personality traits; or at well-being, such as satisfaction with life."
Exploring the similarities (and differences)
What’s more, these similarities were found to be remarkably consistent, regardless of the age of participants or the era they were from. That isn’t to say that there aren’t differences between the sexes however, and the researchers were able to identify ten particular traits where there was a large gap between men and women.
These tended to subscribe to the stereotypes surrounding the genders, with men for instance generally more aggressive while women were found to have closer bonds with peers.
The researchers go on to suggest that one of the main reasons why people believe there to be such huge differences between the sexes is that any differences that do exist tend to because of the way we process extremes.
"People tend to overestimate the differences because they notice the extremes," the authors suggest.
Aggression is one trait that nicely emphasizes what they mean.
"If you look at incarceration rates to compare the aggressiveness of men and women, the fact that men constitute the vast majority of the prison population supports the idea that men are extremely more aggressive. However, it’s a misleading estimate of how much typical men and women differ on aggressiveness, if that’s the only thing you look at for comparison," they say.
What’s more, there is also a cumulative issue at play, whereby people can often notice several differences simultaneously, thus giving the impression that we are much more different than perhaps we really are. When the differences were instead broken down into each individual trait that cumulation seemed to break down.
"The difference on any one trait is pretty small," the authors say. "When there are several smaller differences, people might think there’s a big difference because the whole configuration has a different flavor. I think they make a mistake assuming that any given trait is very different from typical men to women."
So, it would appear we aren’t all that different. However, the researchers didn’t delve into certain areas of apparent difference between the genders, such as in workplace performance. But maybe that’s something for another study.