4 min read

Oh, Gender

Oh, Gender

We are all more than someone else’s ideas of sex and gender. In this week’s tour of recent research, we’ll look at how gender influences society, individuals, and bodies.

Gender roles and choice

Economic and psychological research tells us that women make different choices than men. But what if, not only opportunity but, choice itself was inequitably distributed?

Take, for example, the Mosuo people of southern China, where the women make very different choices…

The "matrilineal Mosuo and the traditionally patriarchal Han attend the same schools in Yunnan, China". When "they first enter school…Mosuo girls take more risks than Mosuo boys, while Han girls are more risk averse than Han boys".

If your grandmother runs the village and you're the heir apparent, risk means something very different to a high-autonomy girl than to a boy with fewer prospects. Are we even seeing "risk taking" differences or just profoundly different life-long exposure to risk?

In further research, when women had greater autonomy of choice, "gender disparities in health…reversed among matrilineal Mosuo compared with patrilineal Mosuo." It seems that chronic stress burdens follow the bad lifestyle "choices" of whichever gender was out of power

In the US, women and men show systematic differences in economic expectations. Many suggest women "choose" a risk-averse, family-focused life, but is this biology or exposure to different economic risks and signals? A recent paper took a closer look at these assumptions.

They found a "tight link between the gender expectations gap and the distribution of grocery shopping duties" indicating that "differences in inflation expectations arise due to social conditioning rather than through differences in innate abilities, skills, or preferences."

I like that this article directly calls bullshit on "women just want different things than men" as some grand genetic/god-granted explanation of differences…

I also suspect that a household in which men and women split grocery duties evenly is vastly more likely to include a woman who is an equitable wage-earner. Such a woman is less exposed to down-side risk from economic shocks that would drive risk-phobic choices…

Why do we persist in treating choice as the magical solution to all ills? "High-power perceivers viewed others…as having more choice than did low-power perceivers [and]…blamed others more for poor performance, and were more likely to punish them"…

Disturbing footnote: over time, the norms of Mosuo kids are shifting to match the dominant Han culture. "By age 11, Mosuo girls are also more risk averse than Mosuo boys." And, "Mosuo boys who have fewer Mosuo roommates behave more similarly to Han boys."

Are women more prosocial?

Winner-take-all innovations competitions, like the X-Prize, are often proposed as an efficient means of solving big problems, but we know that gender balance is one of the biggest predictors of collective intelligence. Is collective intelligence maximized when winner-take-all?

New research says “No.”

Men are more likely to enter winner-take-all competitions (52%) than women (35%); however, when winners are allowed to share their winnings with other participants, women increase their entry rate to 60% while men’s rates don’t change.

To maximize Innovation and collective intelligence, business and science should move away from winner-take-all competition and increase shared rewards for constructive contributors.

Run, Lady Rabbit, Run

Women received “substantially lower” ratings in executive potential “despite receiving higher job performance ratings”. This difference accounted for “30-50% of the gender promotion gap" at one major retailer.


The researchers found that, matched for executive potential, "women outperform male colleagues…both on average and on the margin of promotion." And yet…

When "women outperform their previously forecasted [executive] potential, their subsequent potential ratings remain low".

Won’t somebody think of the mothers and daughters?

Women are more likely to be hired (2.9%) and earn more (4.4.%) “following the birth of [a male] manager’s first daughter”. Those new dads were more likely to “replace male workers by hiring women with comparable education, hours worked, and earnings”, lowering the Tax on Being Different.

I don't know where it comes from..she just likes dolls.

Being randomly assigned to a classroom “peer group with a high proportion of parents who believe that boys are innately better than girls at learning mathematics” “increases a child’s likelihood of holding the belief” and even that “child’s demonstrated mathematics ability, generating gains for boys and losses for girls.”

I think of studies like this whenever I hear a parent talking about how they raised their kids without gender bias, but that girls just like dolls, “It's genetic!”

Your *N=1,* uncontrolled observational genetics research does not impress me.

Represent! The Revengening

When a company hires a woman as CEO or board director, it literally shifts the “semantic meaning of being a woman” closer to the concept of “agency”.

This machine learning analysis of “over 43,000 documents containing 1.23 billion words” goes even deeper.

“When female leaders are appointed into positions of power, women are more strongly associated with the positive aspects of agency (e.g., independent and confident) in language but not at the cost of a reduced association with communality (e.g., kind and caring).”

When I went through gender transition long ago, a senior scientist at my institution told me, “You’ve lost your edge.” I’ve gone on to found multiple companies and invent life-saving technologies.

Different people bring different strengths...but they are still strong. But if you cannot see my strength.

“...underrepresentation is at least partly driven by gender stereotypes that associate men, but not women, with achievement-oriented, agentic traits (e.g., assertive and decisive).”

My own research shows that these stereotypes don’t just influence men, but even lessen the ambition of women’s career choices and expand wage gaps.

Equity starts at the top.

No more math for you

Given “an arithmetic task that, on average, both genders perform equally well”, both men and women were “twice [as] likely to hire a man than a woman” to perform the task when given nothing other than a picture of the candidate.

“The discrimination survives if performance on the arithmetic task is self-reported, because men tend to boast about their performance, whereas women generally under-report it.”

Further, “the discrimination is reduced, but not eliminated, by providing full information about previous performance on the task” because “employers biased against women are less likely to take into account the fact that men, on average, boast more than women about their future performance, leading to suboptimal hiring choices that remain biased in favor of men.”

This isn’t just a powerful finding about gender bias in hiring; given substantial heterogeneity in the population, it reveals substantial generalized bias in hiring against modesty, conscientiousness, and other supposedly “feminine” traits.
I note that people stopped asking me math questions after my gender transition, and I am the greatest fucking math genius of my generation!