Freakonomics: Women are Not Men

A field study was conducted comparing a highly patriarchal society against a highly matriarchal society and their response to competition. This was in the interest of finding out why women earn less here, and how competitive each gender skewed society was. Are men just more competitively inclined, or does society/culture play a role?

The hypothesis:

Culture is not really important. We are born differently and we just react to this. And the alternative hypothesis is that when women are brought up in a culture in which dealing with money, making decisions is part of the daily routine and that’s what they observe as girls, they’re going to be just as competitive as men.

The subjects:

Patriarchal Masai in Africa, in Tanzania   vs.   Matriarchal Khasi in northeast India

The Masai beat their women, have multiple wives, and only count sons as children.

The Khasi’s money and property are inherited by daughters, men move into their wives homes and children take on the mother’s family name.

The experiment:

Subjects had to throw a ball into a bucket 10 feet away. They were matched with an unidentified person playing the same game on the other side of the building. They could either be paid $1 for every successful attempt or $3 for a successful attempt that was better than your unseen competition. The $3 option was the ‘competitive’ variable that was being analyzed.

The results: 

For the Patriarchal Masai, twice as many men competed than women which is very much in line with what we observe when we run it in the U.S., or any Western society. 50% of the men and 26% of the women chose the more competitive option.

For the Matriarchal Khasi, 54% of women and 39% of men chose the more competitive option.


Culture was extremely important. So the implications are clear. It’s not that men and women are not born differently. And you can come up with good evolutionary stories about why men are more competitive than women. What we showed is that’s not the only factor that goes in, which again is not a big surprise, but the other factor, the culture is so big, can be so big that it can just overturn the results. So if you grow up in a matrilineal society, women are actually more competitive than men. So it can completely override any evolutionary explanation, any nature kind of reason. Nurture could be that big. And I think that’s the main result of this study is that in the right environment, women are going to be just as competitive as men.


Originally found on Freakonomics Radio.

Study: Gender Differences in Competition

Other gender issues tackled in the podcast include:

– Why Wikipedia only has %16 of female editors

– Why women’s happiness is in decline

-If we want equality, should women commit as many crimes as men?


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