Gender Differences in Personality

… an Atlas concept in Socioeconomic and Political Context and Atlas105


Writing in Psychology Today, Dario Maestripieri (reference below) summarizes the results of a 2012 study that concludes that gender differences in personality are larger than previously thought.

Maestripieri writes:

“A new study confirms that men’s minds come from Mars and women’s from Venus. In an article recently published in the online journal PLoS ONE, Italian cognitive psychologist Marco Del Giudice and his collaborators compared the personality traits of men and women in a sample of over 10,000 people and found huge differences. Women scored much higher than in men in Sensitivity, Warmth, and Apprehension, while men scored higher than women in Emotional Stability, Dominance, Rule-Consciousness, and Vigilance. When many personality traits were considered simultaneously, there was only a 10% overlap between the distributions of these traits in men and women. Essentially, the study suggests that when it comes to personality men and women belong to two different species. …

“From an evolutionary perspective, large differences in personality between the sexes make perfect sense. Divergent sexual selection pressures on men and women are expected to produce substantial differences in personality traits that influence mating and reproductive strategies. …

“Del Giudice and colleagues conclude that from an evolutionary perspective personality traits are clearly not neutral with respect to sexual selection. “Instead, there are grounds to expect robust and wide-ranging sex differences in this area, resulting in strongly sexually differentiated patterns of emotion, thought, and behavior – as if there were two human natures.””

In a more recent article in Psychology Today, David Schmitt (reference below) writes:

“Converging lines of empirical evidence – from developmental neuroscience, medical genetics, evolutionary biology, cross-cultural psychology, and new studies of transsexuality – along with our evolutionary heritage, all point to the same conclusion: There are psychological differences between men and women. And they affect matters as trivial as sensitivity to smelly socks and as significant as susceptibility to disorders such as depression and autism. The dramatic physical and behavioral differences between men and women, including strength and size, pubertal timing, consistent patterns around the world of hunting versus gathering and childrearing, as well as pervasive differences in risk-taking, mortality, and reproductive requirements, attest to the likelihood that evolution sculpted adaptations into men and women that make us somewhat different creatures. Psychologically, this sculpting by evolution has left men and women with particular approaches to life and love built upon a common core of human nature.

“Ironically, just as the evidence is mounting that psychological sex differences are real, denial of differences has become rampant. Attempts at respectful and productive conversations about biological sex differences often end with name-calling (genetic determinist!) or outright cancellation of events – not to mention the very public firing of a Google software engineer for writing a memo on the topic. …

“One way to clarify discussions about differences in group averages is to put a specific number to them. Psychologists often use a precise number to express the size of sex differences, referred to as an “effect size,” with the most common usage being the d statistic. A positive d value typically indicates that men are higher on a particular attribute; a negative value indicates that women are higher. The size of the d value establishes exactly how big the average sex difference is.

“A d value near zero means that the sex difference is trivial. Once a d value reaches +/- 0.20, psychologists take notice. A d value of -0.20, for instance, indicates that 58 percent of women are higher than the average man on a psychological trait. These are considered “small” effect sizes. Sex differences in interpersonal trust, conformity, and general verbal ability reside in this range.

“A d value of +0.50 is considered “moderate” and indicates that 69 percent of men are higher than the average woman on a particular attribute. Sex differences in spatial rotation skills, certain mathematics abilities (3-dimensional geometry and calculus), and task-oriented leadership (focusing on accomplishing a group goal rather than maintaining harmony within the group) reside within this size range.

“A d value of -0.80 is considered “large” and indicates that 79 percent of women are higher than the average man. Sex differences in tender-mindedness, being interested more in people than in things, and lack of interest in casual sex reside in this size range.

“Larger d values are less common in psychology, but a value  of +1.00 indicates that 84 percent of men are higher than the average woman. Sex differences of this magnitude include differences in height, in expressing interest in engineering as an occupation, and in absence of sexual disgust (such as not feeling grossed out when hearing the neighbors having sex).

“A d value of +2.00 indicates that 98 percent of men are higher than the average woman in a trait, about as close as researchers can get to finding a truly dimorphic difference. Sex differences in throwing ability, grip strength, and voice pitch are in this range.

“No matter how big or small a sex difference, there is almost always significant overlap across distributions of men and women. Some women are able to throw farther than some men. Psychological sex differences are about group distributions, not dichotomous binaries of all men versus all women. …

“Whatever the differences in men’s and women’s psyches – empathy, jealousy, cognitive abilities, mate preferences – many theories in psychology assume that they result primarily from direct gender socialization by parents, media, and societal institutions. As a result, it is often expected that sex differences will be smaller in cultures with higher levels of gender-related egalitarianism, as in Scandinavia, where socialization and roles are more balanced between men and women and sociopolitical gender equity prevails.

“Surprisingly, several large cross-cultural studies have found this is not at all the case. Whether scientists measure Big Five personality traits, such as neuroticism; Dark Triad traits, such as psychopathy; or self-esteem, subjective well-being, or depression, empirical evidence shows that most sex differences are conspicuously larger in cultures with more egalitarian gender roles – as in Scandinavia.

“The same holds true for cognitive attributes, including mental rotation and location ability, objectively measured on tests, as well as for physical traits such as height and blood pressure (both greater in men). And among such differences as preferring physically attractive mates, some of the largest psychological variances of all occur among the most progressive people: Scandinavians. The phenomenon is called the gender equality paradox.

“Culture matters in explaining psychological sex differences, but not in the way most people think. It’s not harsher gender socialization by parents and media, stringent societal gender roles, or institutional sociopolitical forces that widen the differences between men and women in the most progressive nations in the world. When you treat everyone the same, as in the Nordic countries, it’s only genetic predispositions that produce the most observable individual differences. Extremes of sexual freedom beget larger psychological sex differences. Or as explained by Israeli psychologists Shalom Schwartz and Tammy Rubel-Lifshitz, it may be that having fewer gendered restrictions in a culture allows “both sexes to pursue more freely the values they inherently care about more.””

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Gender Inequality (core topic) in Socioeconomic and Political Context and Atlas105.


Dario Maestripieri (2012), Gender Differences in Personality Are Larger than Previously Thought, Psychology Today, 14 January 2012, at, accessed 13 March 2017.

Del Giudice, M., Booth, T., and Irwing, P. (2012). The distance between Mars and Venus: Measuring global sex differences in personality. PLoS ONE 7(1): e29265.

David P Schmitt (2017), Sculpted by Evolution, Psychology Today, 11 November 2017, at, accessed 12 November 2017.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 12 November 2017.

Image: Berkeley Lab, at, accessed 13 March 2017.