It starts with pink-themed birthday parties and progresses to health and sex-ed classes, a tricky dating pool and different career paths. Life gets more complex, but for many, the understanding of gender remains simple: Martians and Venusians are fundamentally different. But a new study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggests that, psychologically, men and women have lots in common.
After analyzing 122 characteristics (such as science aptitude, empathy and views on relationships) of 13,301 men and women, researchers found that behavior doesn’t fall into two restrictive categories, but exists on a continuum.
The study, titled “Men and Women Are From Earth: Examining the Latent Structure of Gender,” aimed to find the best way of understanding and measuring men's and women’s behavior. To do this, authors Bobbi Carothers, senior data analyst at Washington University in St. Louis, and Harry Reis, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, reanalyzed 13 existing studies that found significant gender differences. These studies focused on topics such as interdependence, sexuality and the big five personality traits—extraversion, openness, agreeableness, emotional stability and conscientiousness. By utilizing three different statistical methods, the authors searched for evidence of qualities that could reliably categorize a person as male or female.
Men and women fall into distinct groups based on physical characteristics such as height and shoulder breadth (where men are typically larger) and gender-stereotypical activities such as scrapbooking (women) and boxing (men). But when it comes to psychological traits, such as criteria in selecting a mate, intimacy, sexual attitudes and fear of success, men and women aren't much different from each other. Both had scores that existed on a continuum with a large amount of variability within each sex and overlap between the sexes. This finding goes against the “Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus” thinking which would expect men and women to score in clusters on opposite ends of the spectrum. As a result, the authors suggest that men and women are too complex psychologically to be sorted using personality types, attitudes or psychological indicators.
Recognizing that men and women really are from the same planet allows us to look at our partners, kids and coworkers as individuals. At Working Mother, it’s our hope that this new approach will influence the career sector, where gender stereotypes have notoriously worked against women by limiting their opportunities to earn equal pay and reach top positions.
Did the findings of the study surprise you? Share your thoughts in the comments below!