University of Gothenburg

The Patriarchy Paradox – not quite what you might expect

Posted on

Feminists and equal opportunity campaigners will be disappointed to read the latest research which suggests that the more gender equality there is in a country, the more people revert to gender stereotypes and think differently.

A survey of 130,000 people from 22 countries by scientists from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found that the more women there are in the workforce, parliament and education, the more they differ and diverge on psychological traits.

This counter-intuitive finding has been has been replicated so it’s worth considering – even if no-one really understands why!

Other research published by Plos One found that in countries ranked less equal in gender by the World Economic Forum, women were more likely to choose traditional male courses such as sciences.

Erik Mac Giolla, the lead researcher at Gothenburg, said if anything the research found bigger differences than previously. Measuring personality using the well-established “Big 5″ model OCEAN i.e. Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism, women typically scored higher on all of them although there is always an overlap with men’s scores on those factors.

For example in China, which scores low on gender parity, the personality overlap between the sexes is as high as 84%. In the Netherlands on the other hand, one of the world’s most gender-equal societies, it is 61%.

“It seems that as gender equality increases, as countries become more progressive, men and women gravitate towards traditional gender norms. Why? I don’t really know” said Giolla.

Steve Stewart-Williams at the University of Nottingham says this effect is also seen in other ways, not just personality. “The same counter-intuitive patterns have been found in many other areas, including attachment styles, choice of academic speciality, choice of occupation, crying frequency, depression, happiness, and interest in casual sex

“It’s definitely a challenge to one prominent stream of feminist theory, according to which all differences between the sexes come from cultural training and social roles”.

He thinks that those living in wealthier and more gender-equal societies have more freedom to pursue their own interest and behave more individually, which would magnify natural differences.

He also believes we should stop thinking of sex differences in society as being automatically a product of oppression. They could actually be a sign of the living in a fair and free society.

To sum up you might think it’s reasonable for people brought up in cultures where men and women are treated differently and have different opportunities that they will end up a lot more different than they would in cultures where they are treated more equally.

However the opposite seems to be true. Treating mean and women differently makes them more the same and treating them the same makes them more different.

So perhaps once women have achieved parity with men in their chosen careers etc they then relax and revert to type?

That would explain the Queen Bee phenomenon.