-Written by Katie Little ‘18
Personality traits are enduring patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting (McCrae & Costa, 1997). Sex differences in personality traits first appear in early childhood and remain constant throughout the life span (Schmitt, Realo, Voracek, & Allik, 2008). While sex differences across different cultures had previously been studied, the countries who had provided participants in these studies were primarily European nations. The use of primarily European countries limited our understanding of how culture might impact the development of personality traits in men and women because European countries have generally similar cultures and would not show as much variation.
Schmitt, Realo, Voracek, and Allik (2008) conducted a study with a more diverse sample of world nations, including several countries from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East who had not previously contributed data on sex differences in personality. Using this sample, the researchers considered the relationship between sex differences in personality and a country’s levels of prosperity and gender equality. The researchers hypothesized that countries with lower levels of prosperity and gender equality would show greater sex differences in personality traits. They expected that men and women would develop more divergent personality traits in response to the different roles that they were expected to take on in society.
The researchers used data from the International Sexuality Description Project. To assess personality, the researchers used the Big Five Inventory, which measures five personality characteristics.
• Openness to Experience: How open are you to new ideas, approaches, or feelings?
• Conscientiousness: How much do you prioritize organization and setting goals?
• Extraversion: How much of your time do you want to spend around other people?
• Agreeableness: How generous are you? How much do you trust other people?
• Neuroticism: How prone are you to negative thoughts or feelings?
The measures they assessed to determine a country’s level of prosperity and gender equality included:
• Gross Domestic Product per capita: a measure of the country’s products divided by the number of citizens and an indicator of relative wealth
• The Gini Index: a measure of how evenly the resources in a country are distributed among the citizens
• Gender Equality Indicators: These indicators included life expectancy differences between men and women, the number of men and women in a given country, and how many women compared to men there were in professional and technical work positions.
From the data collected from 55 countries, the researchers found that across different cultures, women consistently had higher levels of neuroticism, agreeableness, extraversion, and conscientiousness. Of these traits, the sex differences were greatest for neuroticism. However, interestingly, while the researchers had expected that countries with lower prosperity and gender equality would have greater differences between the personalities of men and women, sex differences in personality were actually greatest in countries with higher prosperity and gender equality.
One potential explanation for this surprising finding comes from evolutionary theory. Evolutionary theory suggests that gender roles come from what traits helped our ancestors best survive and reproduce. This theory would suggest that there is some aspect of less prosperous nations with less gender equality that differs from that of ancestral societies. In order to further investigate this hypothesis, there need to be larger studies that include a wider range of cultures including groups such as hunter-gatherer communities, which are relatively unstudied and might best mimic the communities of our ancestors.
McCrae, R.R. & Costa, P.T., (1997). Conceptions and correlates of openness to experience. In R. Hogan, J. Johnson, & S. Briggs (Eds.), Handbook of personality psychology (825-847). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Schmitt, D.P., Realo, A., Voracek, M. & Allik, J. (2008). Why can’t a man be more like a woman? Sex differences in the big five personality traits across 55 cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94(1), 168-182.