Women and men are different in their moral judgements, a new study found, and they are more different in gender-egalitarian societies than in less egalitarian ones.
Women and men are different, not only physically, but also psychologically, in terms of moral concerns and social preferences. Those differences vary across cultures.
A new study, involving more than 330,000 participants from 67 countries, focused on five values (i.e. care, fairness, loyalty, authority and purity), and investigated how sociocultural development and gender equality affect the differences between the two sexes with regard to moral judgements.
The study, from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, found that women score higher on care, fairness and purity, while men score higher in loyalty and authority.
This is in line with previous similar studies and confirmed that men are more worried about social order and the maintenance of group bonds, while women are more focused in the well-being of individuals.
There are two basic theories that explain those differences across cultures. Social Role Theory claims that “gender stereotypes and norms follow from people’s observations of women and men in their social roles”. This theory predicts smaller sex differences in gender-equal societies, where individuals are less constrained by social expectations and can act according to their true nature.
The alternative theory, called Evolutionary Psychology, claims that during evolution humans, similarly to other animals, have developed different adaptive characteristics so that “women endorse, more strongly than men, moral values that promote parental care and compassion towards offspring (care) and moral values that prohibit unrestricted sociosexual orientation (purity)”.
The recent study from California is the first cross-cultural investigation of such a large scale. It found that everywhere women score higher on care, fairness and purity, while “sex differences in loyalty and authority are quite variable across cultures”.
Moreover, in cultures that are more collectivist, with more men than women, and are less WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic), the sex difference in care becomes smaller. This is another way to say that in more egalitarian Western cultures, men are less concerned with care and morality while in traditional cultures with fewer women, “men are more likely to focus on family values, long-term relationships, parenting, and caring for offspring since opportunities for short-term mating is scarce”.
Previous studies had found that females score higher in empathy (ability to recognise another person’s mental state) while men are better in systemizing (drive to analyze or build a rule-based system).
The novelty of this study is that it claims that the magnitude of sex differences, in the whole world, is larger than previously thought. Men and women are naturally different, no matter what cultures they live in, and this difference appears in their moral values and judgements.
Also, the new study claims that in countries where men and women have equal access to health and education, the difference in the moral judgements of the two sexes increases. “Women and men are more different in their moral judgements in gender-egalitarian societies compared with less egalitarian ones”, the authors write. This is in contrast with the prediction of the Social Role Theory.
In other words, gender is also a social construct but when individuals are less constrained by society, the differences between men and women, with regard to their moral values, intensify. Cultural institutions coevolved with innate psychological characteristics that are common accross cultures.