On many important personality traits, the differences between men and women are quite small

Saturday, February 8th, 2020

After discussing proto-feminist Mary Astell in Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class, Charles Murray discusses the differences in personality traits between men and women:

It is appropriate to begin by emphasizing that on many important personality traits, the differences between men and women are quite small. These trivial differences apply to many characteristics that are sometimes ascribed to men (e.g., “assertive or forceful in expression,” “self-reliant, solitary, resourceful”) and ones that are sometimes ascribed to women (e.g., “open to the inner world of imagination,” “lively, animated, spontaneous”).


Among the traits on which men and women differ, some of the largest effect sizes are consistent with the higher prevalence of depression among women.


Some of the substantively significant sex differences correspond to traditional stereotypes about feminine sensibility. In the FFM inventory, women were more appreciative of art and beauty than were men (d = +0.34 and +0.33 for the Costa and Kajonius studies respectively), were more open to inner feelings and emotions (d = +0.28 and +0.64), were more modest in playing down their achievements (d = +0.38 and +0.45), and were more reactive, affected by feelings, and easily upset (d = +0.53). In the 16PF inventory, several stereotypical characteristics were combined into one factor, “sensitive, aesthetic, sentimental,” with a whopping d of +2.29.


A person who is warm, sympathetic, accommodating, altruistic, and sociable amounts to the stereotype of a human being, male or female, who is more attuned to people than things. Women are more likely to have that profile than are men.


People who are somewhat to the other side of each trait in the table are reserved, utilitarian, unsentimental, dispassionate, and solitary — which amounts to the stereotype of a human being, male or female, who is more attracted to things, broadly defined, than to people. Men are more likely to have that profile than are women.


  1. Paul from Canada says:

    Jordan Petersen talks about this a lot.

    Men are more aggressive/assertive than women, on average. If you were hiring sales personnel, where this was essential, you should hire men for this sort of job. However, the difference, on average, is small, something like 60/40, only a little better than chance. So in many instances, given two candidates, one female, one male, the female was the better candidate, but statistically, you would still be better off in the long run, hiring the male.

    When I was in grade 9, one of the girls in my class, Margaretta, a Norwegian, was 6’3″, taller than all but one of the males in the whole school. Now on average, women are shorter than men. At that time, men were on average, about 5’10″. Did she exist? Of course! Was she a woman? Absolutely yes!

    This leaves an interesting conundrum. You can’t ignore statistical averages, but you also can’t judge individuals against these averages, since there are also always exceptions and outliers.

    I guess the answer is the classic liberal/libertarian one, that the smallest minority is the individual, and we need to judge everyone as individuals, but we can’t on the other hand, ignore the statistics.

    So we should judge an engineering job candidate on their individual merits, regardless of sex or race, but equally, we should not be surprised or dismayed when the majority of engineers turn out to be white males.

  2. Graham says:


    Lovely summary with which I totally agree. It won’t fly, alas.

  3. Alrenous says:

    Lewontin’s fallacy.

    It is true that individual difference are not, in most cases, large. However, all the differences point in the stereotypical direction, meaning the gestalt personality hardly overlaps at all.

    If you measure say ten features you’ll find a woman is stereotypically male on one of them. She will seem strongly, unmistakably feminine in interaction. It’s not just you that sees it either. The world will respond to her as feminine, meaning she will need to develop feminine strategies for dealing with the world, thus locking in the bias.

    Perhaps you can say that they might be ‘small’ on the measure the scientists use, but they’re not actually small in practice. There’s several good reasons women used to do all the weaving and still do most of the cleaning.

    That said it is also true that certain women are less stereotypical, and if detecting them isn’t too expensive, there’s no good reason to keep them out of stereotypically male jobs.

    The unthinking strictness of the ancien regime is both a rhetorical weakness (ref: what actually happened) and inefficient.

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