That women have access to greater resources, to economic independence, to a real freedom to choose on equal terms, will their attitudes and values differ from those of men? Or, on the contrary, will it make them seem more like they are not subject to the very different roles assigned to them by inequality? A study published today by the magazine Science try to answer these questions, but it may only serve to generate more questions.
In more egalitarian nations, such as Canada and Sweden, women are more altruistic and confident, but less patient and less prone to risk than women in Pakistan and Ghana
But before the interpretations, the data. This work is based on a global study conducted with 80,000 subjects in 76 countries. This study establishes the preferences and values of men and women in six different aspects of their personality (risk taking, trust, altruism, patience and negative and positive reciprocity) through a series of experiments that allows them to assign a score. In addition, each country is assigned a score to assess the equality in which their women live (UN index, years of access to vote, ratio of women workers …) and their economic development is assessed through their gross domestic product per capita. capita. And with all those values, researchers Armin Falk (University of Bonn) and Johannes Hermle (University of Berkeley) searched for correlations.
"Our data provide a clear pattern: gender differences are not fixed but malleable and respond to changes in the social environment," Hermle explains. Matter. "They provide evidence on what factors are associated with the variation of gender differences in their preferences: they increase with the highest levels of the countries' economic development and their gender equality," he summarizes. That is, the greater wealth of the country and greater real equality, the more distinct these personality traits become between men and women.
The correlation is strong between all the values studied in the experiments and the variables of economic development and equity. In countries such as Sweden, the Netherlands, Canada or the United Kingdom, the values found in these experiments are markedly different according to gender. In these more advanced and egalitarian nations, women are more altruistic and trusting, but less patient and less prone to risk than women in countries like Pakistan or Ghana. There, the results of them in these preferences are much more similar than those of their male compatriots.
"Our data provide a clear pattern: gender differences are not fixed but malleable and respond to changes in the social environment," Hermle explains.
From here, the question is complicated when trying to interpret the data. Falk and Hermle do not get especially wet in their work when it comes to justifying this correlation and they limit themselves to proposing a starting hypothesis: the resource hypothesis. According to Hermle, this idea is developed in two aspects: first, a greater availability of material and social resources provides greater opportunities for development without restrictions and the expression of preferences. "If material living conditions are harsh, people may not act according to their preferences, but are forced to act due to external conditions, allowing women and men to pursue potentially gender-specific ambitions and preferences," ensures the Berkeley economist.
On the other hand, gender equality "gives women the possibility of expressing opinions or preferences that are different from men" without any clutter or problems. Of course, Hermle recognizes that this hypothesis does not propose mechanisms on what drives gender differences at the individual level, but would explain how it works on the social level, which facilitate the development and expression of gender differences between countries. For example, it refuses to ask whether there is a biological or evolutionary origin in these differences, only that they are manifested in terms of the social context.
The researcher Sílvia Claveria, specialist in gender inequality at the Carlos III University, identifies several problems in the study. To begin with, the largest denies: "Economic growth does not promote gender equality, we have examples in very rich countries for oil in which women continue to be second class citizens," says Claveria. To this expert, who has just published Feminism changes everythingNor is he convinced by the study's approach, in which some results are proposed without giving a robust explanation of why: "Normally, we need a solid explanation to show that a correlation like the one they find is not spurious."
"Economic growth does not promote gender equality, we have examples in countries that are very rich in oil, in which women are second class citizens," explains Claveria.
In addition, Claveria warns that the results are "surprising" because they go against what has been published so far in the scientific literature. "Theoretically, gender differences should be reduced by increasing equality, for example, when there is greater inequality, men are rewarded for taking more risks and women for being more cautious, as well as for trust." The normal thing, Claveria considers, is that as equality increases, women do not depend so much on these incentives that they submit them to certain roles because of their gender.
However, Hermle is not afraid that her study may generate controversy or misinterpretation in the social debate opened these days by the impulse of feminists. "Our findings underscore, however, the importance of women's empowerment and representation in the decision making of society, in society as a whole and more specifically, for example, in companies or in governments," he says. the investigator. "Greater female representation can empower a society to reflect more diverse preferences and also improve policy outcomes, as previous studies have shown, and can therefore lead to more democratic and efficient decision-making," he says.