Male and female personalities are more polarized in countries with higher levels of gender equality, according to new findings by Swedish researchers from the University of Gothenburg, University West and the University of Skövde.
The researchers say that as countries become more progressive and equal, men and women tend to gravitate toward traditional gender norms.
For the study, more than 130,000 people from 22 different countries completed a validated personality test. The test measured the “big five” personality traits (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism), regarded as the most accepted categorization method within personality research.
The average differences between male and female personality scores were calculated for each country and then compared with the country’s gender equality level as measured by the World Economic Forum.
Confirming past research, the findings revealed that higher levels of gender equality were tied to greater differences in personality between the sexes. Countries with very high levels of gender equality, such as Sweden and Norway, showed differences in personality between the sexes that were around twice as large as countries with substantially lower levels of gender equality, such as China and Malaysia.
In general, women rated themselves as more social (Extraversion), inquisitive (Openness), caring (Agreeableness), worried (Neuroticism) and responsible (Conscientiousness) than did men, and these relative differences were larger in gender-equal countries.
“Insofar as these traits can be classified as stereotypically feminine, our interpretation of the data is that as countries become more progressive men and women gravitate towards their traditional gender norms,” says first author Erik Mac Giolla, Ph.D., from the Psychology department at the University of Gothenburg and a psychology lecturer at University West.
“But, we really don’t know why it is like this, and sadly our data does not let us tease out the causal explanations.”
A combination of social role theory and evolutionary perspectives may ultimately be needed to explain these findings, according to the researchers.
“A possible explanation is that people in more progressive and equal countries have a greater opportunity to express inherent biological differences,” says second author Petri Kajnoius, associate professor from the Social and Behavioural Studies department at University West, and the department of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Skövde.
“Another theory is that people in progressive countries have a greater desire to express differences in their identity through their gender.”
Source: University of Gothenburg