By Lilli DeBode, guest blogger, senior at Kent Place School
Are men and women genetically different when it comes to behavior? Is it in women’s DNA to be less aggressive than men? I know I certainly thought so; it seems that since the beginning of the human race women have always been the less forceful of the two sexes. There had to be reasoning for this constant behavioral difference between women and men throughout the past few thousand years, and DNA sounded like a perfectly reasonable explanation.
However, this is not the case. Uri Gneezy, Kenneth L. Leonard, and John A. List did a study that revolutionizes everything we ever held true about behavioral gender stereotypes. Apparently, when it comes to behavior, it really is nurture as opposed to nature.
The group did a study on competition in two different cultures: an extremely patriarchal Masai tribe in Tanzania, and one of the few matrilineal societies in the world, the Khasi tribe, located in India.
The test was simple. There were two buckets placed on different sides of a building. Two test subjects each had ten balls and had to throw as many as they could into their bucket. Here’s the catch: the subjects had the choice between winning a dollar for each ball they get in, or competing and getting three dollars for each point only if they beat their opponent on the other side of the building.
The outcome was surprising. In the Masai tribe, 50% of the men chose to compete whereas only 26% of the women chose the more risky option. These results were expected and probably mirror what the outcome would be if the test was done basically much anywhere else. The moment of truth came when the Khasi experiment ended. The results were pretty crazy. In the Khasi tribe, 54% of women chose to compete while only 39% of men chose the competitive incentive scheme.
Not only were the Khasi women more competitive than the Khasi men; they were more competitive than the Masai men!
This incredibly simple experiment should make us really sit down and question main factors in our societies. It is so commonly accepted that men and women are behaviorally different, but why is that? Apparently we aren’t all that different; we have just been declaring ourselves genetically dissimilar while we really have just been imitating our predecessors because it’s all we know. Granted, there certainly are genetic behavioral differences between men and women, but this study has proven that nurture plays a much larger role than nature in this circumstance.
Women aren’t inherently less competitive or aggressive than men; the majority of women just happen to grow up in societies where disparity is accepted as unchangeable fact. The real question is, though: is it really that bad that the majority of women aren’t competitive? Is the more admirable trait the ability risk it all, or is it the ability to hold back and go with the more certain option. Should we be teaching girls to risk more, or should we be teaching boys to play it safer?
Sources and Resources: To learn more about this specific study on the gender gap, listen to this Freakonomics podcast. For more debate about whether aggression is genetic or not, read this article. For a more scientific outlook on the debate read this paper.