Leading Like A Woman: Understanding why the gender gap in personality traits is widening
Research shows that there are gender differences in personality traits and these differences are universal across the globe. Research also shows that a country’s development is generally closely related to gender equality and both have shown to increase the gender gap in personality traits. But how does one interact with the other and what are the wider implications for recruitment and leadership?
A postgraduate student at the University of Warwick is aiming to unravel the complicated interactions between the Human Development Index, gender equality and gender gap in personality traits. Arij Yehya is studying for a PhD with Warwick's Department of Psychology. Her research focuses on understanding why gender gap in personality traits is widening in more developed areas.
She explains: “There’s a strange thing happening in the world in terms of gender equality that is unintuitive. Data shows that human development is closely related to gender equality. However, within countries with high development index and better gender equality, females and males are more different in their personality traits. We need to understand why this is happening.
“My research investigates one of the biggest paradoxes in personality traits: the widening gender gap as a function of human development and gender equality. This subject provides further insight into the effect of gender identity on personality traits. It might help in explaining occupational decisions and other existing differences in gender in countries with gender egalitarianism. It will also add to our understanding of gender differences in various aspects of our everyday life.”
Gender variations in personality traits
Research in the field of personality traits shows clear gender variations. For example, we know women score higher than men on personality traits such as agreeableness, openness to experience, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and extroversion. Women also commonly score higher on traits of anxiety and sympathy, while men tend to be more assertive and risk-taking. This distinction is of immense interest, especially given the changing nature of culture, and cultural representations of gender, across the globe.
Surprisingly, gender differences in personality traits is more pronounced in countries or cultures with better gender equality, such as Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, and Netherlands. A closer examination into this phenomenon shows that human development is the one emerging predictor influencing gender differences in personality traits.
“One of the really interesting things about this is that is country-level data regarding personality traits reveals that higher levels of human development correlate with changes in the personality traits of men and women,” continues Arij. “There’s lots of research going on to try and explain this trend, but we are still missing the scientific evidence on the origins of this wide gap in personality traits.
Unpacking the findings
“My research aims to unpack and unravel these findings by studying the interaction between human development, gender equality, and gender differences in personality traits."
Arij is using two different approaches to try to understand how personality traits interact with the gender and development. In her first study, she is looking at the universality of the cultural variations in gender differences in personality traits by trying to mirror the findings within cultures.
Arij explains: “The human development index varies widely across cultures. However, different geographical areas within a single country have developed faster than others. For instance, in 2016, the Gross domestic product (GDP) in Western Germany was 40,301€ in comparison to Euro 29,477€ in Eastern Germany. This difference was 26 years after the fall of the Berlin wall, yet we still find differences in development between the two regions in education, economy, life expectancy and gender differences in wage. Similarly, in the United States of America in 2016, there were clear differences in the human development index across the states ranging from 0.862 (Mississippi) to 0.954 (Massachusetts). My study investigates gender differences in personality traits across these areas within one country to test whether cross-cultural findings are paralleled within the same culture.
The second part of the research aims to understand more about gender differences in personality traits through testing whether either human development or gender equality, or both, explain the gender differences in personality traits.
“Gender equality and human development are usually highly correlated in many countries, which means that the higher the human development, the more likely there is more gender equality. For example, Switzerland, ranked the second worldwide on the human development index, has a high position on the Global Gender Gap Report. At the other end, Burkina Faso ranked low on both the human development index and the Global Gender Gap. It is difficult to tease out whether gender differences in personality traits result from one or the other or an interaction of the two.
"My study attempts to disentangle the effects of development and gender equality on widening the gender gap. I’m comparing the gap in personality traits in four countries that rank differently on human development and gender equality. These are Burkina Faso, Moldova, Qatar and Switzerland. This comparison allows me to learn more about the effect of human development and gender equality separately."
Arij has been recognised as one of the most promising and inspiring young female scientists from the Middle East, and earlier this year she received a ‘L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science 2021 Young Talent Award’ for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
8 March 2022
Arij Yehya is a PhD student in Warwick's Department of Psychology.
She has been recognised as one of the most promising and inspiring young female scientists from the Middle East, and earlier this year she received a L'Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science 2021 Young Talent Award for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
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