Russ Roberts

Baumeister on Gender Differences and Culture

EconTalk Episode with Roy Baumeister
Hosted by Russ Roberts
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Roy Baumeister of Florida State University and the author of Is There Anything Good About Men talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the differences between men and women in cultural and economic areas. Baumeister argues that men aren't superior to women nor are women superior to men. Rather there are some things men are better at while women excel at a different set of tasks and that these tradeoffs are a product of evolution and cultural pressure. He argues that evolutionary pressure has created different distributions of talent for men and women in a wide variety of areas. He argues that other differences in outcomes are not due to innate ability differences but rather come from different tastes or preferences.

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0:36Intro. [Recording date: October 26, 2011.] Book: Is There Anything Good about Men?, hoping it's a rhetorical question. Differences between men and women; how culture shapes both sexes. Psychology literature and perspective social sciences have had toward men and women and their differences and similarities. You talk early in the book about there's been a radical and sudden change about relative superiority of men and women. Talk about what happened there. I think for a long time there was an assumption that men were the proper human beings and women were sort of an inferior copy; and the question was: Could women be almost as good as men? Then there was a brief period of arguing that there were no differences, that they were equal. But since about 1980 almost all the literature on gender differences either says women are better or some say there are still no differences. But it's become sort of taboo to see men as superior in any way. I look at things as the world is more built on tradeoffs, and any lasting difference is likely to be because of a tradeoff. So, being better at one thing is likely to be connected to being not as good at something else. It doesn't seem plausible that nature would have made one gender all-around better than the other. More likely it will preserve the differences if one is better for one thing and the other better for something else. I like what you said about tradeoffs. As an economist of course we deal a lot in tradeoffs. I think it was Thomas Sowell who said: The essence of economics is there are no solutions, only tradeoffs. Early on in your book you explicitly say we are typically looking for the best alternative, the best option, the solution; and neglecting the fact that that usually means we have to give up something, sacrifice something. I think that's routinely true. So, men and women might be different because they are suited or bred for different purposes or different kinds of social interactions, or something like that; but it doesn't seem likely that one is going to be all-around better than the other. It's really the biases and pressures and political correctnesses of the time that insist when you have an idea that one gender is all-around better than the other. What are some of the dimensions that psychologists have looked at when the come to these conclusions? What are the issues that people care about in that literature--that women are better. I know one issue we are going to talk about later is social skills; a lot of people argue that women are more social than men. What are some of the other dimensions that women are allegedly superior to men in tradeoffs? Being more social is an important one. I think being less aggressive and competitive and all those things. I think there's just general assumption that it would be better if men were more like women, and the Psychology of Men's groups and the American Psychological Association say that there's a lot of assumptions that men should change to be more like women. More empathetic, express themselves better, show their feelings, cry more--those sort of things. Yes. One of the issues that is under the surface of your book, and you don't really talk about--I hear those things myself; I cry at movies from time to time; I'm proud of it; I guess it's politically correct given that theme. But I wonder how much those mores really affect how we ultimately, say, raise our children and turn out. It is in the air, this idea that men should be more like women, or more feminine, or the world should be more egalitarian. Do you think it matters that much? Or is that just cheap talk from academics who do talk about it a lot? My sense is we really have changed the way we bring up children. It's a much more girl-centered environment. I don't have as much contact with the schools, but my wife goes there and so on, and she says: It seems like with each decision they have to make, if there's one way that's better for boys and one better for girls, they feel like it would be sexist to do the way that's better for boys, so they just do the way that's better for girls. Over and over all those decisions get made like that; and especially girls are more desired as students there; they mature a little bit faster--which is another interesting tradeoff. Absolutely. Undeniably true, by the way, to anyone who has ever looked at anyone under the age of 20. Or been under the age of 20. Yes. One example of that is the use of pharmaceutical products in the classroom. The whole attention deficit disorder phenomenon I assume is a male phenomenon, overwhelmingly. Both genders can have it, but I think it is more male. And it is a problem, a lot of boys are just medicated; the critics say they are being medicated for being boys. A little harder for an energetic boy to sit still and focus in a classroom and so on. So, again, the women generally run the schools and they are making the decisions; and the girls are the better students. And they are trying quite earnestly to be fair to both, but each time it seems, well, we should do it the way that's better for girls. So, we end up kind of raising our boys like girls, which is probably not going to produce the best results. We also have pushed our girls to be more like boys, too. It's an interesting phenomenon; we've tried to, women are pushed much more toward athletics today than they were 50 years ago; and more toward the more physical athletics than they were 50 years ago. Girls are more active in K-12 in the school system, which seems like a good thing. Yes. Of course, many of these things we are going to talk about also have their own tradeoffs--they are benefits and costs to them.
7:35Let's move to career activity. You have some very interesting things to say about two areas where men dominate. And of course the debate is over why they dominate. And those two areas are mathematics and jazz--jazz improv. You talk in the book, and there is also a great essay, a speech you gave on this, a lecture, that was the first I saw of some of the ideas in the book. You start talking about Larry Summers, who got in a little trouble--I'm being ironic when I say a little--he got in a lot of trouble at Harvard, where he was President, and he speculated, if I remember correctly--it was a speculation--that it was possible that the frequency of male success in mathematics and science was perhaps genetic. Is that a correct summary of what he said? Yes; I think he said that there might be more men with really high ability; and there was a huge outpouring of indignation and objections to what he said. It turned out there are more males at both extremes of the IQ distribution. Males are just more genetically variable. So he was on very solid scientific ground. I think people took it that he was implying that men were smarter than women on the whole. But on that, if not what he was saying, the average could be precisely the same. If you have more men at both extremes, then you will have more men at the high end; and that seems to be what just about every large-scale study shows. When you look at distributions of intelligence, it seems to be one of the themes of the book--men go to extremes much more than women, probably for biological as well as social reasons. And one of the things I found interesting about that is when we look at historical outcomes for men and women, a lot of women like to point out correctly that men are in positions of power, dominance, they get much of the swag from tyranny and other historically unpleasant events. But you point out they are also at the bottom in greater frequency. Yes. If you look at who is in prison, who is homeless, who is killed on the job--even now, we've got even numbers of men and women working but still something like 93-94% of deaths on the job are men. That's because they are so stupid and careless, Roy. Sorry. We are going to keep that tone out of this podcast. But obviously there are many explanations for why that could be true; but the most, apparently it's because they do the more dangerous jobs. Yes. And that contributes to the higher salary thing. But even the higher salary thing could be just a more [?] extreme, since you don't have a salary [?] go down into the negative numbers, so the real extremely low-quality males could tend to pull the male average down and the high-achieving ones pull it up. The higher proportion of homeless for example should be negatives or low numbers, but since they are not in the data, you don't observe even the zeros, much less the negatives, whatever you want to call a negative.
10:54So, why is it that, let's assume it's hard to measure, we assume the averages are the same but we just assume that the male distribution has fatter tails, the two extremes, more on the ends and less in the middle. Why might that be? Do you have speculation on that? I have speculation. I should say I've been corrected on this a couple of times. I go around saying that the mean is the same, and for practical purposes, it's pretty close, but the real experts on intelligence come in and say: Well, in adulthood there is a tiny difference; that the male is slightly higher than the female. In measured IQ tests? On IQ tests. But it's such a small difference as to be trivial. The more meaningful difference is the greater difference at the extremes. My sense is it goes with the difference rates of reproduction. In essence, males are nature's way of rolling the dice, because of if you think of it constantly experimenting, to try a new variation or a new mutation, most of those experiments will turn out badly. Every so often you will have one that turns out well and moves the species forward. So, you want the bad ones to be flushed out of the gene pool right away and not reproduce. Whereas you want the good ones to reproduce a lot. And male reproductive variance is like that. In other words, some men have no children at all, and some men have a lot of children. Whereas women tend to cluster in the middle. Relatively few women throughout history have had no children at all. Certainly fewer women than men have gone childless. At the opposite extreme, there are hundreds, even thousands of children; and of course, no woman can do that. An example you give in the book is Genghis Khan, a slightly unpalatable thought, that he perhaps fathered thousands, if I remember correctly. Yes, he was a busy guy. So, many of us in the world alive today are disproportionately related to Genghis Khan and say, his cousin, who was a lot less ambitious. You refer to a DNA study on that, and the proportions are rather striking about how many of our ancestors are women, versus men. You assume it's 50-50--we each had a father and a mother, as you point out in the book. Yes; there's the assumption that the ancestors of today's human race would be half women and half men. I think that's what people assume. Trick question. The DNA research came out a few years ago and said: Well, no, it's twice as many women as men. Now, laypersons have been surprised because they thought it should have been 50-50 and have a hard time understanding how it could be unequal. But when you talk to biologists and people like that, they are surprised the difference isn't bigger. Because in many species, 20% of the males but 90% of the females will reproduce. You get the situation where the males fight to the top and the alpha male goes and mates with all the females in the group, so that the females will have a child or a baby or whatever it is, each season, with whoever happens to be the top male. And in human history, the same sorts of things. Polygamy has been the norm more often than not; it's only the last couple of centuries we've begun to insist on monogamy; which in my understanding is a way of spreading the women around so that every man could have a woman. That equalizes things much, so that will drive in the long run the number of our ancestors closer toward sort of 50-50. That's probably why it's 2 to 1, now, rather than 4 or 5 to 1, what it might have been in the more distant past. There's a standard cultural view that polygamy is bad for women; but of course, it's really bad for men because most of them won't be able to get a spouse. The least competitive men are not going to get to marry. It's hard to make out itself how polygamy is bad for women. It gets mixed up with other things. But even a woman who wants to have a single husband all to herself, she is still better off in a polygamous society because there will be such a surplus of single men. Right. People saying you wouldn't want to be the fourth wife of a great man--well, evidently some did in those days. I could think there are some people around today who would rather be Bill Gates's third wife than, say, the only wife of the assistant manager of a convenience store. Or an assistant professor. A term you cleverly point out is not the most--a slightly demeaning term.
15:43But I want to go back to this issue of--eventually we are going to get back to women and jazz, but I want to talk first about the competitive role of nature, throwing away the losing rolls of the dice, the bad rolls. If you have a culture through much of human history, what we would call pre-historic times, where a handful of the top men are reproducing at a very high rate and many of the men are not reproducing at all, over time what that does it is selects for--what are their traits going to be? Because you use that a lot. Well, to get to the top, one has to dominate other men; one has to rise in the social structure according to whatever its rules are. So it's going to certainly select for ambition, competitiveness. Aggressiveness. Even aggressiveness through much of history, of course. Physical dominance would be an important way. All those traits would be prominent in a way that they didn't count in women. Nature measures success by how many offspring you have, and so the ambitious, competitive, aggressive men were rewarded, generation after generation, than the mild, meek, submissive, go-along ones. Whereas in women, there was no such differential rewarding. Remember in many animals, all the females reproduce, so there isn't that much need to have traits--there certainly isn't need to fight your way to the top of the hierarchy or outsmart others or anything like that. So those passive men, the less ambitious, the less aggressive, the less physically strong--they are going to fall relentlessly over time out of the gene pool. In a way it's amazing how many quiet, passive, unaggressive people there are in the world overall then, given that. It's one of the challenges to that theory. We should all be Genghis-Khan-like and less like the assistant professors I know. Yes. Well, remember, only the traits that are really tied to gender will be selected in this way. Certainly there are genetic aspects of personality that are not on the same chromosome or what have you that dictate which gender you are. So, males and females will share some traits. But when there is a gender-linked trait, it will tend to produce that difference. Because the women alive today are also the descendants of Genghis Khan, right? That is true, yes. So, why isn't that genetic disproportion, that our ancestors are more male than female--I don't know much genetics obviously, I'm going to embarrass myself now--but doesn't that mean we are going to have women steadily becoming more like men, because of that ratio? No, that doesn't; and I'm not a genetic expert either, so maybe we shouldn't go to far to spell this out. But nature is capable of having gender-linked personality traits. And so a woman might carry a trait even for male baldness--I am told and I can't vouch for this, I'm told that if a man goes bald it's not from your father, it's from your mother's father. So the women are carrying a physical trait that only shows up in the male. She doesn't go bald; but her son may get that trait and go bald. And in the same way, then, the male aggressiveness that Genghis Khan passed on to all the women he had, well, his daughters might have carried some of that trait. But his daughters might have shown not in their own behavior what might have come out in their sons. Women aren't really biologically bred and selected for fighting other women in the way that males of not just many species, but yes, there are men. Jim Debbs, who died a few years ago but who wrote a really authoritative book on testosterone, he remarked once: to put it simply, the female body is designed to breed and care for children; the male body is designed to fight and kill other men. That sums it up. Overstates it a little bit but I think is a very succinct summary of the difference. That's why in the domestic violence literature, pretty much the heavy weight of evidence suggests that if women do if anything if they are likely to hit their partners it's small; women are more violent toward their romantic partners than men are but they don't do as much damage. It's the male, men battering their wives that causes the social problem. Because if a woman hurts her husband--and sometimes she will, it is an underappreciated problem particularly if she uses a gun or a knife or something. She can add capital to her innate skills. But the two, if they get into a fist fight, the woman usually comes out second best. Because again, the male body is much better designed for it. You were commenting on women going into sports, but we are not seeing a big rush of it into boxing. A little bit. Not going to be equal any time soon. And the same is true of the more physically demanding sports--football. Any of them, actually. They are not going to be able to compete with men at the same level, obviously, because of those raw differences. They don't even compete with each other on those. Most are just women against women. There are very few sports where women compete directly against men. Even pool and chess and some of those in many cases they have separated by gender. But women will have their own soccer teams and basketball teams. Not the most dangerous sports, boxing and football. Correct. Perhaps not on superiority; their wisdom. It's partly a sign that society regards males as more expendable. We don't seem to mind that much the injuries that many of our young men suffer. But often carry with them for the rest of their lives, that they will obtain from playing football, things like that. It's literally a brutal sport; but the long-run consequences are particularly brutal. There's some sensitivity to it these days; there's a lot of talk about concussions. Boxing is less fashionable. It's part of the general trend we talked about earlier, I think, that the things that are particularly manly are not as popular as they once were. Football is, but boxing is not; and we are relentlessly moving football toward a less physical game through equipment and through rules and through rule-changes obviously; trying to make it a less aggressive game. We are trying; always a question as to whether the safety equipment makes it more or less dangerous. Well, I think it makes it more dangerous, actually. An article in The Economist, years ago, when somebody died in a boxing match, and they said: Well, if you wanted to make boxing safer you'd get rid of the boxing gloves. The gloves are supposed to reduce the impact. They reduce the wear and tear on your hand, but then because of that you can hit the head much harder. I think there is no doubt that if we got rid of football helmets it would be a safer sport. Because people would act differently. That's the so-called Peltzman effect; podcast. It's a real effect.
23:39One of the issues we haven't mentioned, which I think you talk about with real eloquence is risk-taking. We talk about aggression, ambition; but you said historically it's the men who get in the boat and go off to conquer another world, because they are having trouble dominating the men around them; they think they'll go do something heroic, they'll go do something at least on different territory. So that aspect of competitiveness is historically quite important. And women don't do it. Yes, so remember again that biology rewards success by giving you more offspring. Well, the women throughout our history, pretty much playing it safe is a valid strategy. Most women are going to be able to reproduce, so it's just a matter of playing it safe and trying to make sure you get a good offer. Pick the best one. Pick the better genes to mix yours with. Whereas the males are facing a dead end biologically; you've got to play some angle; you've got to try something new. Sailing off into the unknown you might get killed; but you might get rich. We tend to be descended from the ones who did take the chance, and who were lucky and successful and managed to come back rich. The ones who drowned or whatever, they left no heirs. But it would probably have been the same if they had probably just stayed back home in a minor role--they wouldn't have reproduced either. They were taking from a biological reproductive point of view what looks like the best shot they had. Now, the skeptics would say: there might be some genetic difference, but the cultural aspects are huge. So the patriarchy over time oppressed women, kept them down, gave them these attitudes, encouraged them to be passive; punished them for being aggressive. We still see this today in politics: when female politicians throw angry fits there's been an alleged double standard. So, what about this argument that it's our culture historically that caused these differences between men and women's risk-taking and aggressiveness? Risk-taking tends to build on nature. In my book I try to understand why the patriarchal difference got started. Most of the anthropologists subscribe to the view that the hunter-gatherers are pretty egalitarian in terms of males and females being roughly equal, in terms of their status and their position and their contribution; I guess the men contribute a little bit more in terms of the total calories that everyone gets, but the men as hunters, it's much more variable. Some days you come home with a feast and some days you come home with nothing. Whereas the women gathering berries and things, that's always there, so that's more reliable. And the two are equals. So, what produced the difference, this idea that the history of culture is all about men oppressing women I think is very one-sided and not all that well-supported view that's been pushed on us more for political reasons than for understanding of the facts. My sense of what happened is that hunters and gatherers had separate spheres, and the male sphere and the female sphere organized along the lines of the way men relate to each other and the way women relate to each other. Which for the men, they tend to build the bigger networks of shallower relationships; whereas for the women make the more intense close-relationship, 1-1 bonds. Cultural progress, however, grows much better from the bigger networks of shallow relationships rather than from the small ones, so what I think happened, rather than this idea that the men banded together and pushed women down, actually the net effect of the men was to bring women up. It's just the men pushed themselves forward more rapidly. It's that progress and the creation of human culture emerged from the men's sphere, and the history of cultural progress is mostly groups of men competing against other men. It's not men against women. So, progress was created and the men raised their sphere; and the women, in the 1-1 relationships, there was very little progress. If you want to go through the history of the world and look for things that groups of men and groups of women have done, there are far more contributions by groups of men. The women are busy doing other important things, and as I said, the intimate relationships are more important. But women don't tend to cooperate in large groups with other women; they don't band together except now and then to complain about the men. The small business data even today show the same thing; women are starting more small businesses than men, but they don't grow them into big businesses. If you look at the ones that become the Fortune 500 corporations or even well below that, but still quite large organizations, then the men are doing that. That again shows the complementary roles and the different emphases. It's easy for my colleagues to look at men and say the men should be more like women, better to show your feelings more and communicate more, be really deeply involved in intimate relationships and care mostly about that. Well, we have women who do that, and yes, there are some rewards if men did that, too, but there's a tradeoff between the kind of traits you need to build a strong intimate relationship and the kind of traits you need to negotiate your way around a large group or corporation where you've got enemies and rivals and other things. Expressing your feelings is a classic one of that. If you are building an intimate relationship, sharing your feelings is one of the best things. It helps your partner know you better and know what you care about better, love you, can take care of you better. But if you are going to buy a used car--you mentioned economics--or a house or something, if you show all your feelings right away you are putting yourself at a disadvantage. And likewise if it's a boardroom meeting if you are trying to argue who is going to get the deal--if you've shown all your feelings, your rivals can take advantage of you and exploit you there. So, it's probably useful for the males in their sphere to keep their feelings more under wraps and not show them and not reveal them as fast; it might make it harder to build the best intimate relationship. But that's not the only criterion. Again, the large-group things tend to be very much male things, and that's what's brought culture forward. As I said, that's what lifted women up, too. I think this idea of history all about men pushing women down--I'm not going to say it never happened, but it's been way overstated. Women, century and century were better off than their predecessors because of the advances that the men made. It's just that the culture was created by men, and that's why men dominated it and have the top roles in it, and so forth. It's a great point--a statistic I always talk about is the enormous, extraordinary reduction in death in childbirth. Maternal mortality is one of the great human successes, that reduction. And that was the work of men. Women had managed childbirth for centuries and centuries, men totally excluded. But when men were finally permitted to get involved in it, they were able to come up with some ways to make it better, safer for mother and child.
31:29This gives me my segue to go back to the jazz issue, and then we'll come back and talk about some of the economics in your book, which is very well done, and on trade and exchange and specialization. But I want to ask you about the jazz issue. Unlike the math issue, so we look at the data; we see an enormous preponderance of male success versus female at the high end of mathematics and in the high end of jazz music. There are great female jazz singers, but there are virtually no jazz musicians that are considered great who are women. And you suggest that that's not an example of extreme ability, where the right-hand tail of the distribution is what gets sampled, but rather a preference difference. Explain that. Let me start with a more general point. Much of the discussion of gender differences has really become acrimonious, poisoned by the idea of who is better. So there is all this talk about ability differences and is there any difference. You mentioned earlier the Larry Summers thing--are boys better at math, do they have better scientific ability or better intelligence overall. The differences if they are there in ability are small. But the differences in motivation, in what you like and want and feel, those differences are much bigger. Since the book came out, we've now had several major scholarly works on gender differences in the sciences; they pretty much come down to what I was already saying and suspecting when I wrote the book: it's not a difference in ability; it's a difference in motivation. Girls can do science just fine, but they don't like it; it doesn't attract them as much. I have a female friend who calls it the "dead world"--the sciences that study inanimate things, like physics and chemistry and so on. Seems to have less appeal to women. They start to get interested in biology where there's some degree of life, but much more when there are people, fascinated by people. In psychology we've certainly got plenty of women, more female than male majors in most colleges right now. It's the interest and not the ability that drives them. Now, with creativity, to bring it back to the point of jazz--the psychology of creativity is a field that's been going there for a long time, and they have all sorts of tests, and as far as I can make out on those tests boys and girls, men and women, are equally creative. There's not any big gender difference. And you have to stack that up--well, in the history of the world so much creative innovation has been by males, so much more than by female. And jazz being a case in point. It wasn't access to musical instruments ; it isn't even the ability to play, because if you go, say, to classical music, there are women at the very highest levels who will play absolutely wonderfully, really master an instrument to the highest levels of virtuosity. If there's any difference, some will say that the male hand being slightly larger so you can hit one note farther away on the piano. Tiny little things like that. Bella Davidovich can play the piano just fine. Women play the instrument. But at the creative parts, improvising in jazz and also composing throughout the history of the world--most of the great composers have been male. So, I'm suggesting the abilities are the same. There's simply a lack of interest in doing that. You talked about the usual excuses that people make--maybe women weren't encouraged or they were oppressed; but if you go back to the 1800s, women played piano much more than men. It was a standard part of the education of a middle class girl to take piano lessons. Not so much for the boy. There's a thing in the British museum where Charles Darwin was weighing the pros and cons of getting married, and he listed as one of the advantages of getting married that he could hear music. Remember they didn't have radios or television or any kind of recorded music back then. If you wanted to have music in your home, you had to have an instrument, and then you had to have somebody who knew how to play it. Meant pretty much having a piano and a wife who would play it. The men didn't do that. And yet all those women playing, they didn't create any new musical movements; they didn't compose a lot; they didn't develop new styles. And meanwhile, around the same time, the black men in the United States just coming out of slavery, by any measure much more disadvantaged than those women, they created blues and then jazz, two new forms of music that have changed the way the world heard music. Remember, I'm saying the ability is the same, but there's some way in which the male is more driven to use that creativity to make his mark. I'm not going to say even that women are not creative, because a woman will take care of her children, come up with creative little things to do for them, but she doesn't seem to feel the drive to use that creativity to make her mark in society. At least historically. You could argue again how much of that was genetic and how much cultural, how much did culture build on the genetics. Clearly women today, say in rock music where there's been an enormous explosion of women's success in that sphere--my guess is that jazz will possibly be next--you do see women being more aggressive, more creative, using the skills that they have and seemingly enjoying it more than they once did. Doesn't that make you wonder whether some of those roles in the past were "artificial"? Oh, yes; a culture generally builds on nature; what's happened through most societies in the history of the world is maybe small average differences in inclination between men and women gradually get locked in by a culture: this is the men's life and the men's sphere; this is the women's life and the women's sphere. Our culture is doing an interesting experiment to try to reverse that. Let's erase, if we can, gender differences and make men and women as similar as possible. We certainly have agreed that it's not fair for people's options for how they want to live their lives to be restricted based on their gender any more than they have to be. Got to figure out how men can give birth, for example. They're working on that. Men can at least carry the baby. There's some creative unusual stuff going on there.
38:52I think the issue we have to mention which is obviously in the background here is that any of these differences are on average. Obviously there are women capable and interested in doing all kinds of things. They may be very unusual for women, in the right-hand tail of the distribution we're talking about. And then this more egalitarian world which we are talking about gives them a chance where it might otherwise be socially unacceptable--it could be boxing, being a soldier, a police officer--these are all places where women have been eager to take a role. It's certainly a terrific time to be a girl or women. This society is really encouraging and the structural barriers are essentially gone; and lots of support . So, yes, there's really been great moral progress in our society in that regard. But you do suggest there's a tradeoff--it can be difficult for men as a result. Well, yes--those don't necessarily have to be tradeoffs. I think the way we are doing it in some ways is to the disadvantage of men. This latest proposal that they are going to apply that sports Title IX to science and math classes, essentially not let men take science and math until an equal number of women do it--well, certainly there are some costs there. It seems like in college sports, many men were simply unable to play the sports they wanted to because the interpretation was there had to be equal numbers of men and women in sports, or proportional to the campus population as a whole. And again, the difference was motivation, not ability--the girls weren't as interested as the boys in playing sports all along. So, try as they might, the universities can't get the women to come out and join the sports teams and so they have to come out and cancel some of the men's teams. Well, sports, maybe that's a loss, maybe not a great thing; but science has been one of the foundations of our nation's success and superiority and its cultural progress. So, if we screw that up by essentially driving the boys away, well there could be hell to pay.
41:16I want to get back to this issue of progress in large groups versus the smaller spheres of intimacy, and I want to do that by getting the literature that you reference on social characteristics. You talk about that for a long time there was this view that women were more social. Certainly a cultural stereotype that women are more social and that men are more--they like to keep to themselves more, don't express themselves, etc. Talk about how that literature in psychology has changed in recent years and why it's important for the implications for culture. Well, the assumption that women are more social, I think you may see that in many places. It was really brought home to me--I got an article to review that was making this argument very strongly. I had just published this article on the need to belong, concluding that all humans, both male and female, one of the core motivational features is this drive to form and maintain connections to others. So, I was a little surprised to hear that men didn't have this or had less of it. As I looked at the data: well, women are more social if you count social only in terms of forming the 1-to-1 relationships. As the relationship studies put it, women are the experts on relationships. They understand that; they are strongly motivated to form pair bonds with one another, and so forth. But if you look at activities in larger groups, being social in forms of groups and so forth, then males are if anything more social. Almost all the activities that will associate with large groups tend to be male activities, whether it's team sports or scientific, economic activities, and so forth; military, too. Males tend to be much more interested in the large groups. Men like gangs. Yes; there are some female gangs, too, but not nearly as many. There's a very revealing study--people in Chicago, Cacioppo and Gardner and this giant groundbreaking piece of work on loneliness--and they've found that for both males and females, whether you are lonely is determined in part by whether you have a close relationship to someone who cares about you--you have a boyfriend or girlfriend or a best friend or somebody. Having a few of those makes a difference. In that, men and women are the same. What they also found is how much you identify with your organization, your sports team, your company--this makes a difference in the loneliness of males but not females. To the female to belong to the large group is irrelevant to whether she is lonely or not. Whereas for males, that can satisfy that need in that way. I think that again shows that the differences between men and women are in what they desire. Males are more oriented toward desiring the larger interactions and the larger social group. I think we also talk in some point, I reviewed this stuff, there are experimental studies showing the same sort of things. So, they'll have two children play and then they'll bring in a third and then see what the first two do. Well, the girls tend to not let the third girl play. They don't want her. They keep playing with just the two of them and they exclude her. The two boys will let the third boy play and join in. And I'm not saying this to argue for the moral superiority of boys or anything like that. It's just different. For girls, they want the 1-1 contact, and adding the third person in spoils it for them. Whereas for the boys, it doesn't spoil it. It's fine to have three, four, and so on. So, again, the boys will more spontaneously organize the big play groups and things like that; the girls, left to themselves, when it's playtime the girls will pretty much pair off and play 1-on-1 with the same person the whole time. If the boy plays one-on-one, he'll play with one guy for a while and then somebody else for a while, so it will be a revolving series of others; or will get involved in the larger groups. All these show, in something as seemingly innocuous but in something as universal and meaningful as children's play, the different orientations, the different patterns toward being social. Nothing to do with girls' being oppressed or anything like that. It's just what kinds of things they like to do and what kinds of things are satisfying to them; and well, there are some differences between what the male finds. And in those male groups, the men often keep score. It makes a difference. Men are very competitive. They like those group activities that have a scorecard. Yes, we all think males watch sports more than women, and they probably do; but I always thought you'd probably find the biggest difference not only in watching a sports game, because a few women like to watch an entertaining game; but you'd probably find the biggest difference in who checks the scores for a game you are not going to watch. Do you log on or get the newspapers or something and turn to see what the score was in some game yesterday, because for a male, that's settling which one is superiority, and that just resonates with the very deeply-rooted thing we were talking about earlier--you've got to fight your way to the top; we are descended from the males who fought their way to the top and it wasn't that way for women. So, fighting your way to the top doesn't matter. The idea of looking up the score on a game that was played yesterday for many women I know would just be a matter of silly indifference. They do look at it differently, in my experience. I have referred in the past on this program to a cartoon which I'm again going to get slightly wrong, but I'll mention it again--it's a couple getting into the Just Married car to start their honeymoon; they've just exited the church; the man, in my memory has his hand on the radio knob and he turns to the wife and says something like "Let me just check the score." And the cartoon is entitled: The First Straw. Superb insight into that difference; and I think it's real.
47:48Men like to keep score; and one of the points you make, let's come back to the trade and cultural progress issue, one of the remarkable aspects which you've talked about in this conversation which I don't remember reading in the book is that it's hard to make intimacy better over time. In your lifetime you can get better at intimacy. You can be a better friend, a better spouse, a better parent or a child to your parents. As you get older, you get older, wiser. It's hard to improve it over the centuries, though. But those large groups, those large interlocking networks, say, of trade--reminds me of Adam Smith's insight that the division of labor is limited by the extent of the market--as those networks for trade expand, the opportunities for trade networks expand, the opportunities for transformation and improvements in standard of living and innovation and technology all become extraordinarily powerful; and it's what's lifted us out of subsistence lifestyle for the average person in the last 300-400 years. That's, you argue, the male sphere, and it's a very interesting argument. Yes. Socially it is the kind of thing you just won't find women building up those networks. At least historically. This has happened over and over, place after place all over the world. Why? There's no objective reason why women couldn't have built these networks and done this instead. There are about 200 countries in the world right now, and I'd bet just about all of them were founded and built up by men. And as you point out, that's changing. We are embarked on a very different social experiment, a very different strategy. We encourage women now to do that embarking. Many women go and get MBAs, they go to law school, they go to college in higher proportions, at least finish college in higher proportions than men. With the expectation, at least on paper, that they will go on to be parts of these larger networks. It seems to be happening to some extent. Certainly it's not ruled out. What's your take on that? Are you arguing that it's again a predilection towards what women enjoy and they just aren't going to enjoy it as much so they won't be as aggressive in pursuing those links in those larger organizations? But they seem to be doing it, with success. Yes; actually when I first started talking about this someone came up and said he'd recently completed a big study of management consultants in which there were plenty of examples of successful males and females, and they'd made similar money: but, he said, the males built wider networks of contacts. It was still the same thing; they were showing their greater interest in having a huge network of shallower relationships that is still reflected in the male thing. Yes, women can certainly perform very well, and these are in some--remember, too, we are not talking about men are one way and men are totally another way. We are talking about overlapping distributions. What's surprising to me is you don't see the women building these up very much. They can come into them once the men have created them--that's been really the complaints by the feminists. We've heard for decades: they want the existing organizations to change; they don't want just the right to make their own organizations and do it the way they wanted. They complain about the way it's been. Well, you could create a new organization, a new company, and so on. Liz Claiborne, who died just a couple of years ago when I was finishing the book, I think she was the first woman to create a corporation that made it into the Fortune 500. It was number 440 or something in the book, made it into the top 500 sort of barely. Newsworthy because it's so rare. In the marketplace, when you go to buy toothpaste or something like that, would you want to buy this toothpaste because it's produced by a corporation that was started by a woman? You wouldn't even know. Very little bias there. Anybody can make products and compete in the marketplace. But again that sort of empire-building mentality seems to be much more uniquely male. I'm not saying the women can't do it. They certainly can. They just don't seem to be as driven. Well, there's also a ruthlessness there that may be on average a male trait. Steve Jobs passed away recently, and I'm a big fan of Apple and his creativity; we talked about it at the end of the podcast with Frank Rose. Now there are these stories coming out that he wasn't the nicest person. Well, most successful people have a dark side. They do disdain a lot of relationships to be successful. They do shortchange their families. Steve Jobs, at the end of his life, said he wished he'd been a better father. But most successful people, male or female, have to give up something because of the time dimension that's required there. There is a certain ruthlessness, I'm sure. The market doesn't reward ruthlessness, but there's a certain level of aggressiveness that often is associated with that character trait or a lack of kindness, empathy, whatever you want to call it. And some ruthlessness is rewarded. When, let's say, you have two corporations, one with: We love everybody, we are going to take care of everyone; and the other: We just want the most competent people and we are going to fire those who don't perform--well, you can certainly see the first, more feminine form would be a nicer place to work. But it might not making as much money. It might not survive. It might not survive when times are hard. So you kind of create the innovation that Steve Jobs did. And again, we could say that we wish men are more like women, but do we really wish he had been a woman? And maybe not have done this thing? Hard to point to very many women who have created that level of technological innovation. And one the funny parts about this is that he was great team leader. I'd be interested in how many members of his team were women, to really give evidence for this kind of argument. It's certainly an anecdotal argument. But one of his great gifts was to motivate others to be creative. So it's a little more complicated than just his own genius. That was part of his genius--it was quite subtle, I think. And some of that motivation was quite harsh. I'm sure he was a tough person to work for. For some people that was exhilarating; for others it was unbearable. I'm sure it wasn't easy. Yes. If you want to get a long way in a short time, you can't suffer too many fools all that gladly. I'm not surprised that in his mind he probably wasn't, and maybe had some even more unsavory traits as well. But some of that stuff goes together. I agree.
55:37One example in the book you mention that I found utterly fascinating, and it came up recently in a podcast that we did with Debra Satz, was what happened on the Titanic. Talk about that, because I think it's not well known. The example came up in a previous podcast--we were talking about a different type of inequality, income inequality and whether it's fair that the lifeboats get the lifeboats disproportionately than the poor. What do you do if there are not enough lifeboats? Should it be random? And I'm always as an economist always worrying about the things that encourage there to be lots of lifeboats. People ignore or forget what happened. Something interesting happened that you mention in the book. Describe it. It was true that rich people survived more than poor people. There were not enough lifeboats. But the biggest difference was males versus females. In fact, the poorest women had a higher survival rate than the richest men. So, anyone who talks about patriarchy--those guys were the patriarchs. The rich, upper-crust. Quite males. And yet they couldn't even get seats in the lifeboats as long as there were poor, impecunious women in line. The women all had to go first. That's just another revealing sign that the Titanic was somehow a dramatic example. But more generally that's just the case. I think most men know that in a pinch they will be expected to sacrifice their lives in order to let the women and children survive. Society values the lives of women and children better. We still see also in the news, there will be a discussion of a terrorist bombing or something like that, and then they will say: Even women and children were killed. Which is essentially saying: Well, it would have been better if just men were killed. But women, it's somehow worse for a woman to die, than for a man to die, because her life is valued more. I think, too, that some of the tension as women moved into the workplace, reflect that women were used to being valued. That women have long been entitled to respect simply by virtue of being a woman. A girl grows up and she automatically becomes a woman and she is entitled to respect as a woman. In the old, male organizations, however, the boys had to prove themselves in order to be men. And you weren't entitled to respect. You had to earn it. Indeed, a lot of places had a lot of cultures with put-downs and other signs of disrespect, which I think were functional to remind everybody that unless you achieve and produce, you will be exposed to this kind of humiliation at all time. It's a way of motivating the men to try harder to try to prove themselves. The idea that in modern organizations that everyone is entitled to respect is I think in some ways a radical idea, and I think not as motivating, not as motivating, not as useful for an organization as saying: Respect has to be earned. You are not entitled to respect until you contribute something. You have to earn it. It's part of the self-esteem movement that you talk about, this idea that we are all winners. This is a very modern and perhaps transient phenomenon. The effect of that on girls could be debated. I think the effect on boys is pretty uniformly negative. Explain. Well, I mentioned here about a month ago I was visiting a young professor who had gotten his Ph.D. with me and we were talking about advising students. And I said: When I started, I could tell all the professors either worked with only male and only female students, and I wanted to work with both, because I wanted to get the best. And over time I kind of evolved a strategy it seemed like with the women students, you had to be building them up and encouraging them, and with the male students, you had to be pulling them down to earth and deflating them, bursting their bubble a little bit. And he said: Yeah, I remember; and I just thought that was some kind of old-fashioned sexist stuff. But now that he's a professor himself, he said, that's just exactly right. And that's what he has to adopt in his own strategy, too. That telling people, encouraging [?] all the time, that may be, if you want to say women have insecurities then that could be good for a lot of women, to some degree; but for the males, there seems to be more narcissism, more confidence, especially in the young male. So, when you flatter that kind of person you are not compensating for an insecurity. You are really catering to his worst tendencies. As we know, gender differences in self-esteem are largest--not ever all that large--but at the largest around the time of late adolescence. Yeah, I've noticed. Probably for biological reasons. What my evolutionary colleagues say that's the time when the young male had to fight his way to the top of the hierarchy, get prepared to challenge to become the alpha male himself. To get in that boat you have to be pretty confident. Or to go to war. Or in a small group, with the alpha male, to try to take his place. All those, you have to be a little more confident than warranted. Because if you don't take the chance, then you are not going to reproduce anyway. And well, you are no worse off in a sense than you were. But if you take a chance and win, maybe that will help you to do it. And again, all these things were absent from the reproductive contingencies of women through the centuries. So that late adolescent phase of overconfidence that especially in my field that were trained to do scientific research, and it's a very disciplined, slow-down, think-things-through, make sure you have considered every angle, every study, you've got to work hard on this, got to discipline people to work harder and the man who thinks he's going to be a Nobel Prize winner in a few years, he needs to be brought down to earth and told: You've got to earn your place and earn your respect. So, telling him, well, you are great and you are entitled to it, which is the new educational strategy, I think that tends to bring out some of the worst traits in males.
1:02:23In economics, there's a photograph I have of the American Economic Association, our professional group, meeting with, I think it's President Coolidge. And it's a photograph of the contingent outside the White House. And it's overwhelmingly male. There are two things that are striking about the photograph. One is it's overwhelmingly male. There's a handful of women, they may be wives of the economists. It's the earlier part of the 20th century. The other thing that's obvious is that they are all wearing hats, all the men. Because hats were considered necessary if you were going to visit the President or do anything formal in those days. That have changed. And there are more women in economics. But it is still overwhelmingly a male field. And it's a very arrogant field. And one of the things I complain about on this podcast is the lack of humility among economists about what they know and don't know. I think that would be a male failing. But it's an incentive problem as well. There's a certain incentive toward exaggerating your success and your confidence in your ideas. If you want to be interviewed and paid attention to. So, there's a hierarchical thing going on there, a pretty competitive thing that I think is not so healthy for truth. I'm told economics and chemistry are the two fields with the biggest sex ratio right now, the biggest preponderance of males to females. And there would be others not far behind, I suppose. But I understand, again, it's not an ability but much more a motivation factor. Now, there are many, many, many other ideas in this book. We've touched on a lot of them. I'm sure we'll generate some interesting emails. And the book has some very controversial things in it. One thing we haven't had a chance to talk about, that I'd like to close with, is you talk about culture in the way an economist would, in the way a Hayekian economist would. You see culture, cultural attitudes, as emerging as attitudes, as emerging from cultures. I want you to talk about what you mean by that, at least the way I've phrased it; and I want to ask you one or two more questions. Talk about how you see culture evolving and emerging through the competitive process. Let me back up a little bit. Culture I see as our biological strategy. Many people argue as if culture and nature and many things--we evolved to do culture. It is how our species solves the problem of survival and reproduction, which is the same problem every other species faces. But we do it in a different way. And by culture, I mean sharing information, creating networks, creating different works of economic trade, of interactions where you have division of labor and specialization and all those other things. Well, those all really work. You accumulate knowledge over time, and you accumulate wealth and power. Now, culture has several jobs. It's to enable people to live together, to enable people to survive and reproduce, but part of that is you are competing against other groups, too. So, if we are talking in a fairly primitive manner of a couple of primitive tribes in the same area, well, one of them is going to get a better space than the other. And competition can take the form of economic or military or some other form. But one way or the other, one form of culture will be more successful than the other. So cultures have become the way they are partly because these are the things that worked and have prevailed and that enabled these cultures to survive and become the 200 countries in the world today, as opposed to the many cultures that were started and did not make it and did not survive. So, attitudes toward gender for example, some people need to take chances and have risks and possibly to be killed in exploration and in battle, but cultures are also competing in population or whatever, so most cultures can't afford to lose too many of their females because it will compromise the size of the next generation. And those that do will struggle to compete in war and other ways. You explain it very well in the book. It's not like culture sits around and things about these things, but that's what emerges through the competitive process. Right, yes. I was just reading something about the history of China where there were over a thousand autonomous local sovereign units over a couple of centuries ended up merging into 7 and then merging into 1. All those effectively thousand independent little countries, you can just imagine how rough a process that must have been, politically, militarily, and economically to merge those into one giant empire.
1:08:08So, I understand how that could shape our current world through past competition among groups and cultures, and that the evolutionary or genetic inheritance we have from that process is going to affect who survived, and therefore is going to affect our traits. It's hard to see how that competition works now, where technology substitutes a lot for population. So, to finish up with your earlier remark where we embarked on this earlier experiment to make men a little more like women, or maybe a lot more, or certainly tried to balance things out, typically take it as a given that it's typically to the advantage of women to give them the opportunity to do some things they haven't done in the past. And you have suggested that may have costs. But what are the cultural forces that are at work now compared to then? The United States, so we are in competition with other countries, but we are not at much risk of being conquered the way that cultural pressure would have worked in the past. Do you see culture having a different role today than it had in our pre-history? Well, yes; not quite sure how to answer that. I would have to say countries are still competing with each other but we can count our blessings that it's not so often in terms of the battlefield any more. Competition proceeds in much more economic terms and that is influenced partly by innovation and science and technology. Let me rephrase it. Let me ask it this way. Let's say we make some of the cultural changes we've embarked on and we make them permanent. And let's say they have a real cost: they result in a lower growth rate because we have a different rate of scientific innovation. They could have many, many aspects outside of just sexual competition, the sex differences we are talking about. We do lots of things in America today. People push for lots of things that would, say, reduce our growth rate. Are we going to pay a price for that, that we would have, in the past in a small group setting, probably be wiped out? We're probably not going to be wiped out. Where are the market forces that make those changes and cultural innovations costly? I agree we are probably not going to be wiped out. Let's say we became a second-rate scientific and military power. We could probably continue living here. We might be happier! We'd have lower rates of heart disease, we'd spend more time with our families. We can think of lots of benefits of having a less aggressive, less competitive world, say. There is a cultural force toward that world. They want corporations to be less aggressive, less competitive, more empathetic, less bottom-line oriented; all of those things, there's a cultural war along those lines, whether it's male-female or other differences. There's not that much pressure to keep those things from happening. I don't really have a full grasp of how we would suffer. I remember visiting Switzerland a year or two ago and how the United States was having all these problems and why can't the United States be more like Switzerland and just take care of our own problems instead of trying to send our troops all over the world and fix everybody else's problems? Driving ourselves into the poorhouse and everything else. But most of the political commentators think the idea that America should retreat into itself is just a stupid strategy; and that we need to continue to be influential. We are dependent on others for trade and oil and things like that; we might, if we had less to offer instead of less scientific innovation, we might be in a weaker position and economically the quality of our life might decline. But as you say, there might be benefits as well if we didn't work as hard. I'm always struck when I live in Europe for a while, they seem to have decided at the societal level that people just in general wouldn't work as hard. The average American gets something like 8-9 days of vacation a year and doesn't even take all of them, whereas the Europeans, 5 weeks is sort of a minimum in many countries. And everybody goes and spends so much time relaxing; they are not driven to produce as much in their work as we do. It works fine. That much perhaps we should really consider as doing it. But we see Europe is in a situation now where we wish we could be more like Europe. They are struggling a little bit. That model's sustainability may not turn out to be as high as we once thought.
1:13:28One last question: You refer to a lot of work in the psychology literature, some of it approvingly, some of it less so. What role do you think social science plays in this evolving role of men versus women, versus how much is just a response to it? How scientific do you think the literature is? There is plenty of good social science, but I would say in the fields of gender that there are more people with axes to grind and more bias, and more political correctness, so that lowers the quality of stuff. You are not free to just follow your ideas or thoughts or your data, wherever they may lead. Many people moreover who specifically choose to study gender--the field is now chiefly dominated by women who have strong agendas that they want to promote about what they think women should be like and so forth. So, I believe in the value of social science and its potential to do good for society on its own, but I fully recognize that it is sometimes compromised and people who have or want to have political goals that take precedence, although I respect many of the political goals that they have--they want to make the world a better place and promote equality and things like that--but using science in the service of that, if it starts to alter how you do science and the pressures on what you can get published, certainly you don't want to allow this article to be published because people don't like its conclusions or something like that--and that does tend to happen. And so I think the science of gender differences is one of the less prestigious areas in social science, and probably to some extent it deserves that. People are probably not doing it with the dispassionate zeal to find out what it is that makes for the best science. We have the same problem in economics.

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COMMENTS (20 to date)
rhhardin writes:

Vicki Hearne's explanation of mathematics is that women are not uneasy with unresolved issues like men and so are not driven to focus on a single problem until it's solved.

Women lose interest at the top level of math because it trades off against their social life and its unresolved and interesting (to them) complexity.

link to relevant pages.

Gerry Barone writes:

Great podcast as always. One thing I would have to disagree with you on is that the more brutal 'manly' sports are less popular than they once were. Though boxing is certainly less popular, mixed martial arts has been growing in popularity since it's start in the early 90's.

Mads Lindstrøm writes:

From the podcast:

One example in the book you mention that I found utterly fascinating, and it came up recently in a podcast that we did with Debra Satz, was what happened on the Titanic. Talk about that, because I think it's not well known.

...

I think most men know that in a pinch they will be expected to sacrifice their lives in order to let the women and children survive. Society values the lives of women and children better.

That may be history. When Titanic went down 74% of the women, 52% of the children, and 20% of the men were saved.

Another famous and more recent shipwreck is the MS Estonia disaster. Quoting Mark Steyn's book After America (page 185) about the Estonia disaster:

Of the 1,051 pasengers, only 139 lived to tell the tale. But the distribution of the survivors was very different from that of the Titanic. Women and children first? No female under fifteen or over sixty-five made it. Only 5 percent of all women passengers lived. The bulk of the survivors were young men. Forty-three percent of men aged 20 to 24 made it.

This is of cause two isolated incidents, and the conclusion we draw should be limited. But it does suggest that our culture may have changed dramatically.

Rob writes:
Nathan writes:

One thing I like about this podcast in general is that it cites scientific papers specifically. This podcast fails on that ground resoundingly. Lots of talk about 'research' in the sloppy way one notices on the news all the time. A few complaints: Lawerence Summers resigned primarily because he was monstrous at his job (cf. Richard Bradley's Harvard Rules, but I also saw it with my own eyes.) What is the evidence of Cinngis Qaghan's fecundity? There are very few primary sources from his life and none I know mention this. The podcast means 'polygyny' when it says 'polygamy'. Polyandry is also attested and should be discussed in this context. Maria Anna Mozart and Fanny Mendelssohn were both discouraged form composing and performing precisely because they were women. These things I know as someone with no professional interest in the matter. Baumeister should do his homework! Such frightful sloppiness means his argument (as presented here) amounts to a hill of beans.

paul writes:

great podcast. i really enjoy when Psychology and non strictly economics topics get covered on this podcast because you look at things with an economist perspective.

thanks so much for your work!

Gary writes:

Thanks Russ and Roy for being willing to discuss what many have been fired for talking about. This is so valuable.

chitown_nick writes:

Very interesting podcast, and thanks for discussing the topic. I am skeptical about some (not all) of the assertions made from the observations of difference between men and women in history. Of course, as is often mentioned in this podcast on other topics, the answer is more complex than this one aspect we're examining.

For example, as Nathan discussed above, women in the classical music circles in Europe were discouraged from composing, even though they had the drive to do so. In contrast, black men in the US created the new musical forms of jazz and blues, which included a growing number of female singers. I would propose that the social barriers and development of a counter-culture around these music forms was more of a driving force than the male-female divide. Further, extrapolating interest in a subject out of records of achievement is not a one-to-one correlation, so it should be used with some caution.

Other areas, such as the differences in tendencies to share feelings, etc. and the impact of those behaviors in different situations, I think is a fair comparison. However, it should probably be mentioned that although board rooms and sales negotiations might not be the best places for sharing, other more collaborative roles, such as leading social organizations, non-profits, or other large, complex organizations that find greater value in openness and collaboration are likely avenues for a higher percentage of female than male success.

Gary writes:
For example, as Nathan discussed above, women in the classical music circles in Europe were discouraged from composing, even though they had the drive to do so.

Almost everything men have ever achieved has been in the face of opposition. THAT is drive. Not doing something because someone discouraged you? That is not drive.

The cry of the feminist: "We are just as capable as men! So can you please hurry up and just give us everything that men typically have to fight to get? Tnx!"

gwern writes:

Mads Lindstrøm, I saw that comparison a while ago in another context, but there, the person mentioned that while the Titanic took hours to go down, the MS Estonia went down quickly and so social norms had no time to operate - no time to think, too busy escaping.

Airto writes:

And besides of sinking in a matter of minutes, ms Estonia sunk in the middle of the night, so the people who were awake and not in their cabins (almost nobody made it out of their cabins) were mostly men drinking in the ships bars.

rwgood writes:

I don't think football is becoming less violent and I think boxing is being replaced by MMA, mixed martial arts, which is probably more violent but shorter and appeals to shorter attention spans. Its unclear but there are some who suggest that MMA is less injurious than boxing because of the larger number of padded blows to the head in boxing. It would be more interesting to me, not to catalog the differences but to focus on better ways to educate each group, especially interesting in educating my sons since the girls are older now.

corvi42 writes:

In general, I found this discussion very interesting. Definitely food for thought.
A few things I disagree with, or thought were omissions:

1) I agree that it is in our evolved primate nature for men to be more competitive and driven to achieve, and that this might constitute increased motivation which has meant more significant achievements have historically been brought about by men. However, there are a whole set of realities present in pre-modern societies which kept women out of the active world where they might have achieved. There is the practical reality that the vast majority of domestic labour was women's to do, so they had very little time to spend on the kinds of developments we generally hold up as historically significant. It wasn't until the development of labour saving devices for domestic work (washers, dryers, vacuum cleaners, etc.) in the early to mid 20th century that women's time was freed up to pursue other work.

2) Prof. Baumeister quite rightly pointed out that monogamy as a cultural institution has done a lot to reduce the destructive competition between men for women, and as such may indeed be a pre-requisite for civilization. He failed to note that this does not eliminate male interest in controlling female sexuality, however, but rather transforms it. When you have men competing to mate, the single alpha male gets control over all the breeding women. He may not necessarily mate with them all himself, but he gets to decide who does, handing them out like rewards to his buddies. All the children born are then either his or of one of his friends, so he automatically controls their allegiance. When every man can have a wife, and hence a family, the bonds of family become key to controlling allegiances within the society. In order to maintain control, the senior people in a society will decide who gets to marry whom, so that they can orchestrate the blood allegiances created by marriage and children. This means that it still remains a high priority for them to control the fertility and sexuality of women, to use them as instruments of structuring the power relationships in society. The level of control on what a woman can do and who she can associate with, was (and still is in many parts of the world) highly controlled, limiting her options severely. Since the bond between a father and his children (and via them to the mother's family) is much easier to break, the same control is not put on men. The attitudes of this are still present with us in the form of "slut shaming", where women are punished by those around her for any behavior perceived as overly promiscuous, whereas men are not.

3) It is arrogant and ridiculous to think that the reduction in infant and maternal mortality is because suddenly men were "allowed" to intervene in the birth process. Male "doctors" who thought they knew better have been interfering in the birth process for centuries, mostly causing more harm than good. Its only with the development of modern medecine that this interference became mostly positive. (Yes, modern medecine was mostly developed by men, but my point still stands).

4) I think there are forces pushing us towards a more "feminine" society other than just because we think it would be "nicer". In a world that was mostly devoid of people and where scarcity was mostly because of the difficulty of procuring resources, the kinds of bold aggressive action of men was indeed a benefit to all of society. As we move into a crowded world where scarcity is mostly because there are so many people competing for finite resources, it may be that the forms of social compromise which comes from empathy and deep relationship building is a superior strategy. In terms of different work environments, I think the style of the environment can have a lot to do with whether there is a scarcity in the labour market. In a setting where there are plenty of people eager to replace you in your job, aggressive assessment from superiors as well as an aggressive attitude towards achievement may be the best thing. In a job market where there are relatively few qualified people (think the IT world), a softer kinder work environment full of comforts and perks is essential to attract and retain good people.

PS - I am a man.

emerich writes:

I find it amusing and curious that these issues are so toxic that people have to pretend it's difficult to find out what Summers actually said. Guys, there's this thing called the internet. Here's what he said.

"even small differences in the standard deviation [between genders] will translate into very large differences in the available pool substantially out [from the mean]".

What's striking about that quote is that it's almost exactly what Baumeister said. Anyone familiar with the psychometric literature knows it's true, however carefully they'll tread around the subject publicly.

Still, podcast junkie that I am, I heard Summers give a speech in which he gratuitously insulted his introducer, so I'm not surprised that little love was lost between him and his Harvard colleagues. He clearly is not a lovable guy, and I'm not surprised there are folks out there who like to make him squirm.

Jennifer Doggett writes:

Great podcast - thanks Econtalk for tackling the big issues! I was interested to hear that in the discussion on women's contribution to music and the arts no-one talked about literature, where women have had a greater influence. Authors such as the Brontes, Jane Austen, George Elliot, Virginia Woolf have all made major contributions through pioneering and developing new styles of writing. If, as Baumeister suggests, women are less driven than men to use their creativity to 'make their mark' surely this should affect all art forms more or less equally? Doesn't the significant contribution that women have made to literature suggest that it is more likely that there were cultural/social/economic barriers to women 'making their mark' in the other fields?

Catuious fan writes:

Kudos for taking on a difficult subject. The ex post narratives are very compelling and fun.

I share some prior posters (corvi42, chitown_nick) concerns about the statements about men yielding the great advances in history. In my own experience, I'm a classic family man where my wife takes care of the young ones while I go out and work as an engineer. The work I perform is very tangible and has my name on it. The work she does is more ethereal and nameless. So if a historical sociologist would look at the evidence, it might easily seem that I produced great things for society, while she did not. But to say that men are responsible, just seems arrogant and shortsighted. You might say I produce a "quantity of life," while she produces "quality of life". I build a home, she makes a home. Both are important for society, but the latter leaves fewer footprints.

HB writes:

This was a very thought-provoking discussion. But, I wonder how much of the culture Baumeister discusses is a result of exogenous forces in human evolution, such as changes in the environment. Homo sapiens sapiens shares equal genetic inheritances from other great apes, including both pygmy chimps and chimps, which have different social structures. Pygmy chimps are matriarchal, but chimps are patriarchal. There are other matriarchal and even polyandrous species in nature. Humans themselves have been polyandrous. Economics is about scarcity, and could human gender relations be the result of a particular exogenous situation in human history?

Excellent podcast on gender and as a woman in private equity, I agree with the challenge for female run businesses is the risk taking and growth elements. Financial history and future goals are set out in numbers and are the first hurdle with private equity. Few female companies hit the hurdles required. At conferences, female owners tell me men do not understand our business yet my company has financed a female run daycare business which actually became one of the fastest growing businesses in the country. Did that female owner get understood better by male private equity? Since it is a female dominated industry of day care, the complaint that men will not invest in female businesses just does not go.
So it is of value to me to hear my gender observations confirmed and it helps me with managing my employees.
Did laugh at polygamy discussion and the question who would like to be Bill Gate's 4th wife. I reckon he could give Genghis Khan a run for his money if he decided to be polygamous.

Eric Mauro writes:

The substance of Baumeister's presentation resonated on a few notes pretty hard, among them the crucial element of risk in a growing economy, just how dangerous and risky pioneering is, and how ferocious you have to be to carve out a new place for yourself.

However arguments from evolution always bother me as we have so little evidence. Does modern sexual selection back any of this up?

Dan writes:

Interesting discussion. But this guest -- unlike most guests on ET -- seemed to have very little evidence to back up his thoughts/arguments. Hopefully, his book has more.

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