Women vs. men – differences on moral psychology measures

October 31st, 2010 by Ravi Iyer

I made a recent post summarizing the differences between liberals and conservatives from our YourMorals dataset, using the effect size differences between groups and sorting the results from those constructs that are most associated with liberals to those constructs most associated with conservatives.  I was asked a followup question as to whether the differences found were indicative of masculine-feminine differences.  Indeed, some have written that the Democratic party has become feminized and that is a prime reason why white males generally vote Republican.

Is this true?  One way to examine this is to compare the table from the previous post with the below chart of moral psychology differences between women and men.  Below are the same constructs, sorted by effect size, with constructs at the top being more associated with men and constructs toward the bottom being more associated with women.  I did the same thing for just liberal women/men and just conservative women/men and found the same result, so I feel fairly confident that these differences between men and women are somewhat robust.

The conclusion?  First, in comparing the previous liberal-conservative differences to the differences here, it is pretty clear that male-female differences are far lower in magnitude than liberal-conservative differences.  The effect sizes are much smaller, meaning that scores of women and men overlap much more than scores of liberals and conservatives.  It is clear that male-female differences cannot account for a great deal of the variance in political attitudes.

Second, there are many constructs associated with being female that are indicative of liberalism (valuing universalism, empathizing) as well as traits indicative of conservativism (higher disgust scores, belief in a just world, and being collectivistic).  Similarly, there are male traits associated with liberalism (individualism, utilitarianism) and conservativism (attitudes toward war, belief in proportionality).

It is still possible that the Democratic party is emphasizing certain traits, like empathy, that are driving away ‘masculine’ voters, at the margins.  Perhaps overly individualistic and utilitarian individuals are actually identifying as libertarian, an overwhelmingly male group, that is characterized by rational and utilitarian  psychological traits.

From a moral psychology perspective, the results are promising for the social intuitionist model that posits that emotional reactivity is the basis for much moral reasoning.  The clearest pattern in the data is that women seem more emotionally reactive and men report being more rational.  Both have their benefits as at either end of that spectrum are manic-depressives and psychopaths.  But this data converges well with previous research indicating that women are, in some instances, more morally and socially conscious.  Perhaps this is evidence for a social intuitionist basis of those previous findings.

- Ravi Iyer

Posted in differences between liberals and conservatives, differences between men and women, moral emotions, replications of other studies, unpublished results, utilitarianism, yourmorals.orgNo Comments »

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