Women and Men: How different, how the same?

In this, the third posting on the topic of women and work, I diverge just a bit.  As I’ve researched and thought about women and men, I kept running into studies that compared the two groups, and this got me to wondering just how strong our differences are and in what areas?  There are the obvious differences in average height, weight, and strength.  There are also areas like cognitive skills in math and reading comprehension where the research is particularly illuminating.  But today, I focus on two areas where really good data is available:  How we perceive and how we make judgements.  It turns out that there is a test that has been taken by hundreds of thousands of people, called The Myers Briggs Type Indicator, and the results are quite surprising.

The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is designed to identify preferences along four dimensions:

  • Favorite world: Do you prefer to focus on the outer world or on your own inner world? This is called Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I).
  • Information: Do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning? This is called Sensing (S) or Intuition (N).
  • Decisions: When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency or first look at the people and special circumstances? This is called Thinking (T) or Feeling (F).
  • Structure: In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options? This is called Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).

From this comes sixteen personality types, representing all combinations of results from these four categories.  Results for a very large sample of the U.S. population are available and published.  I took a look. But before sharing what the data say about the differences and similarities of men and women, take a look at the categories above and think for yourself:  Where do you think women and men would differ?  Go ahead…………

My own intuition is that gender differences would be large for at least three of these dimensions.  I would predict that women would be more intuitive, more feeling, and more perceiving.  What do the results show?

I was very wrong.  When you look at the results, women and men, as broad groups of people, divide themselves virtually identically on 3 of the 4 categories:

  • Extroversion/Introversion — Both women and men are split about 50/50
  • Sensing/Intuiting — Both women and men are split about 3 to 1 on this one
  • Perceiving/Judging — 50/50 again, both for women and men

The one area where gender differences are strong is on Thinking/Feeling.  Women are 40/60 and men are pretty much the reverse.  So, as broad groups of people, and in terms of perceiving and making judgements, perhaps we’re not as different as we might initially believe.

However, there ARE other differences worth note.  Recall that 16 different personality types result from the scores on this test.  If you look at the top 5 for each gender, you see two things.  First, there is only one personality type that makes it into the top 5 for both men and women:  Introverted/Sensing/Feeling/Judging (ISFJ).  This category is the top one for women, at 19% of the population, while it is #4 for men at 8%.  The remaining top-5 categories do not overlap between women and men.  Second, men are considerably more diverse within their gender:  The top 5 for men accounts for about half the population, while the top 5 for women accounts for two thirds.  So, men are more variable in terms of MBTI personality types.

Why do I share all this with you?  We all have our intuitions about women and men and the similarities and differences between the genders.  As this exercise shows, these intuitions are likely wrong and likely oversimplified.  Incorrect and oversimplified intuitions have another name….bias.  We all know what happens when our thinking and our actions are driven by bias.  A specific example:  Many people believe that men have stronger aptitude for mathematics and other quantitative fields of study.  Well, I’ve looked at the data, and this is NOT true.  So, why is there a massive gender imbalance in quantitative/technical fields?  Oh dear, there’s not time for that in today’s discussion, but I’ll come back to this in future ones.

In the meantime, beware of your intuitions, especially about women and men.  Stay tuned….

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