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25.3: Gender Differences

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    Differences between males and females can be based on (a) actual gender differences (i.e., men and women are actually different in some abilities), (b) gender roles (i.e., differences in how men and women are supposed to act), or (c) gender stereotypes (i.e., differences in how we think men and women are). Sometimes gender stereotypes and gender roles reflect actual gender differences, but sometimes they do not.

    What are actual gender differences? In terms of language and language skills, girls develop language skills earlier and know more words than boys; this does not, however, trans- late into long-term differences. Girls are also more likely than boys to offer praise, to agree with the person they’re talking to, and to elaborate on the other person’s comments; boys, in contrast, are more likely than girls to assert their opinion and offer criticisms (Leaper & Smith, 2004). In terms of temperament, boys are slightly less able to suppress inappropriate responses and slightly more likely to blurt things out than girls (Else-Quest et al., 2006).

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Boys exhibit higher rates of unprovoked physical aggression than girls and are more likely to play organized rough-and-tumble games. [“gender stereotyping” by Aislinn Ritchie/Flickr is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.]

    With respect to aggression, boys exhibit higher rates of unprovoked physical aggression than girls, but no difference in provoked aggression (Hyde, 2005). Some of the biggest differences involve the play styles of children. Boys frequently play organized rough-and-tumble games in large groups, while girls often play less physical activities in much smaller groups (Maccoby, 1998). There are also differences in the rates of depression, with girls much more likely than boys to be depressed after puberty. After puberty, girls are also more likely to be unhappy with their bodies than boys.

    However, there is considerable variability between individual males and individual females. Also, even when there are mean level differences, the actual size of most of these differences is quite small. This means knowing someone’s gender does not help much in predicting his or her actual traits. For example, in terms of activity level, boys are considered more active than girls. However, 42% of girls are more active than the average boy (but so are 50% of boys; see Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\) for a depiction of this phenomenon in a comparison of male and female self-esteem). Furthermore, many gender differences do not reflect innate differences, but instead reflect differences in specific experiences and socialization. For example, one presumed gender difference is that boys show better spatial abilities than girls. However, Tzuriel and Egozi (2010) gave girls the chance to practice their spatial skills (by imagining a line drawing was different shapes) and discovered that, with practice, this gender difference completely disappeared.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Although our gender stereotypes paint males and females as drastically different from each other, even when a difference exists there is considerable overlap in the presence of that trait between genders. This graph shows the average difference in self-esteem between boys and girls. Boys have a higher average self-esteem than girls, but the average scores are much more similar than different. [“Gender and Self-Esteem” by Judy Schmitt is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. Adapted from Hyde (2005).]

    Many domains we assume differ across genders are really based on gender stereotypes and not actual differences. Based on large metanalyses, the analyses of thousands of studies across more than one million people, research has shown: Girls are not more fearful, shy, or scared of new things than boys; boys are not more angry than girls; girls are not more emotional than boys; boys do not perform better at math than girls; and girls are not more talkative than boys (Hyde, 2005).

    In the following sections, we’ll investigate gender roles, the part they play in creating these stereotypes, and how they can affect the development of real gender differences.

    This page titled 25.3: Gender Differences is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Kate Votaw.

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