Specialization and the Flowering of Personality, and Choice

A new paper in Science adds support to the so-called gender-equality paradox. Using a survey of some 80,000 people across 76 countries Falk and Hermle find that for a variety of preferences the differences between the genders gets larger the greater is economic development and gender equality. The basic story is here:

As the authors put it:

In sum, greater availability of material and social resources to both women and men may facilitate the independent development and expression of gender-specific preferences, and hence may lead to an expansion of gender differences in more developed and gender-egalitarian countries.

As I pointed out in my post, Do Boys Have a Comparative Advantage in Math and Science? results like this can explain why there are proportionately fewer women entering STEM fields in richer and more gender-equal countries than in poorer and less gender-equal countries.

One point which many people are missing is that small but growing gender differences with development are only one minor effect of a much bigger phenomena. In a primitive economy, everyone does more or less the same thing, subsistence farming. Only in a market economy under the division of labor can people specialize. Specialization reflects and amplifies diverse personalities and interests. People sometimes complain about “excess” variety in a market economy but do they extend that complaint to careers, arts, and lifestyles? In a market society we get Corn Flakes, Frosted Flakes and Coconut Flakes and we get cardiologists, dermatologists and otolaryngologists and we get Chicago Blues, dub step, and K-Pop and we also get a flowering of sexual preferences and lifestyles. As Mises once said the very idea of personality as we know it today is a result of the market economy. The small gender differences some people focus on are merely the averaging by gender of much larger individual differences. Thus, I would revise the authors:

In sum, greater availability of material and social resources facilitates the independent development and expression of individual-specific preferences, and hence may lead to an expansion of individual differences in more developed and equal-opportunity countries.


It also explains why women have less children and ultimately are, from a strict evolutionary sense, failures. Give your life to your social club, your pet, your career, or, to your children? Pick one, unless you are Superwoman then you can do all.

How could your answer possibly be true? Every child has exactly one father and one mother. Men can maximize reproduction by impregnating multiple women, but at the expense of other men, because women cannot have more than a relatively few children. Plus which, women preferentially mate with men who are dedicated to fathering excellent children. They might be fooled once, but not every time.

Yes, women are drawn to sober, industrious men, like Mr Hatchett:


Conversely, low IQ, lazy bums like Emmanual Macron repulse women with their lack of work ethic or education.

@DuanDiRen - good spot. I'm amazed at how bums end up having lots of kids (Philanderer (sic) Rodman, father of Dennis, has a couple of dozen wives and countless kids here in the Philippines), while good smart men have none. Same for women. Pretty soon the earth will be, in the long run, overrun with low-IQ unfit people.

Long ago I took a class in political science, in which many if not most students were political science majors. On the first day of class the professor walks in, sees the large body of students, and tells the assembled that all these students in this class reflect that we live in a wealthy country. The implication was that the political science major is a luxury that only students in a wealthy country have that option. I looked around the classroom and I got the distinct impression that all those political science majors did not get what the professor was telling them. This being a long time ago, there weren't all those majors that have been added to the curricula in many colleges since, majors that could only be an option in a wealthy country. Yes, we are a lot wealthier today than we were back then when the choice of questionable majors was very limited.

Long ago when I was in college, foreign students from "less developed countries" (the politically correct term before political correctness was a thing - it replaced "undeveloped") would come to America and study economics, get the degree, then return to their home countries to work for the government in planning the economy's development. Not surprising, there were more than a few critics, who questioned the choice of economics rather than, say, engineering so they could return to their home countries and build roads, bridges, industry. Well, the lucky few who had the resources to study in America were just copying their former European colonizers, who studied philosophy and similar subjects in college. Somehow I get the idea that countries within China's orbit of influence won't be studying philosophy (or economics) but engineering. The world has changed.

I know a number of Chinese economists and they are highly capable. Economics is a social science, not a STEM field, so there's some evidence that China is paying attention to non-STEM disciplines. I don't about philosophy.

I have never understood the opposition to the idea that biology may make result in some aggregate differences in psychiatric function. We know, for instance, that male and female metabolism is different at a cellular level. The steady state for a variety of molecular signals differs as men and women have differing rates of catabolism (if nothing else). We know that men and women have different incidences of mental illnesses that do not appear to be culturally bound (e.g. schizophrenia, narcolepsy). We know they respond differently to drugs. Why should we a priori expect identical end states for high order functions with all this diversity in low order functions?

We even see differences based on ancestry in terms of alleles for receptors in clutch things like serotonin and dopamine. Everything we know about molecular neurology tells us that we should expect to see statistical differences in some psychometric measures if only due to outliers with atypical receptor alleles.

Sure jackasses will run to all sorts of dumb places with this information, but we should expect there to be differences in how much people value risk vs reward when they have differences in the binding capacity, location, and number of dopamine receptors. We should expect differences in emotional responsiveness when serotonin receptors likewise show diversity. The important thing is to remember that absent whole exome sequencing the ability of applying these statistics to any individual is pretty non-existent. And like pretty much everything else in biology, environment has a huge non-linear impact.

I can sorta explain it to you, I think. If you actually don't understand, that is. (and bearing in mind this is purely imho). The "opposition" is not based on the specifics, but on the issues surrounding the question of use. To what use would such a framework be put? Some of us (nearly) all the time, and all of us some of the time think reductively. Our tendency is to simplify complex n-variable, m-dimensional problems/questions into single variable, single dimensional projections. So, using the framework that inherently presumes sexual differences will inevitably lead to (unfair) discrimination - because we're all lazy thinkers. So, the resistance is to the framing of the questions in such a way that will lead to the discrimination between individuals based on means, when such discrimination is clearly based not on an individual's capabilities (merits) but on the particular category the discriminator chooses to lump that individual. IOW, the 'tool' is very likely to be misused and unlikely to be "useful" (at the individual level).

That's an extremely authoritarian mindset if not Orwellian. If people are afraid to speak the truth because of where the truth might lead, that's on them. I won't allow them to suppress my free speech or thoughts because it hurts their feelings.

Sure someone might misuse the facts, but you push back against that when it happens.

By the same logic, thinking that correct framework will somehow improve the general conditions of all people and/or rate of progress is also reductionist logic. Sure, if your reduction is "all women are bad at STEM", you make a mistake, because you have just lost a whole bunch of women, who could have improved this. But the reduction "there should be the same amount of women and men in STEM" is surely as harmful, because all those women, that were forced by socium into STEM might have been more successful in other fields.

Therefore applying the logic "this can lead to reductionism" can be as reductionist. Surely, as intelligent beings we should strife towards complexity of views and not try to implement simple rigid structures.

Exactly right. However, the problem extends from this even further and the left shows to be more destructive. People who believe the first reductionist version ("all women are bad at STEM") are harmless in the sense that they think this is just a consequence of natural differences. They are sure exaggerating such differences but they are not (for the most part) proposing that "something needs to be done". The folks on the other side of the reductionist argument however, are pushing for artificial ways to "fix this" which not only makes no sense in terms of fairness, it actually slows down progress in that whole field.

STEM is only for cucks!!!

Crude heuristics about group differences are basically useless compared to a 3-minute conversation with someone in forming an opinion of them.

Yes. Thank you.

Right, as I've said before, what is the point of devoting so much thought to average group differences. Black people on average are taller than Asians. So what?

Africans being taller than East and South Asians tell you something that despite poverty, similar nutritional constraints do not apply in Africa. For one. You wouldn't know that without the somatic measure.

So what? No offense, but your comment seems almost willfully obtuse. There's a whole cottage industry in this country devoted to producing equality of outcome. Wouldn't it be nice if they at least understood that there wasn't equality of input, to start with? Because an awful lot of people are laboring under that mistaken assumption at the moment.

There's an industry devoted to making everyone the same height?

Snark aside, my personal view is you don't need to study group differences to give individuals who need a little boost some help. I'm not a fan of hard racial or gender quotas, but I am a fan of taking steps to help underrepresented groups get a shot at various endeavors. You don't need to study differences in male and female brains to see that it would be good to find a way to get more female directors making movies (and that's happening now), or black people in med school, or Hispanics in college.

Yes I'm aware there's an extremist position that wants to make everything about hard quotas, I oppose that. But I still don't see what the intense scrutiny of group differences does for anyone. It's a rhetorical exercise as far as I'm concerned, a way for a certain type to feel smart on the internet without much real world application. It's interesting in the Sailerian 'noticing' sense but nothing more, and way too many pixels are spilled on it. Individuals are individuals, on this I agree with the libertarians.

Informative stereotypes plus a 3 minute conversation tell a majority of the story. Add in a resume, cover letter, and writing sample and you're 90% of the way there. References add another 5% knowing well they are biased but can give clues. Merely having references is informative.

We know this is true with job interviews. Why not everything else?

Here's the use, since you asked: It's a necessary counter to an opposing bit of reductive thinking which says that if the gender ratio of participants in a given activity isn't 50-50, then sexism, misogyny, and toxic masculinity is to blame and Something Must Be Done.

Well for a start it informs me about which drugs I should prescribe. People tend to look poorly on a doctor who kills a small percentage of all his hear

good point!
looking at ovaries either under a microscope or in vivo is cool
the fact that talking about ovaries gives some people
in the sociology dept the vapors
just makes it even more fun

you say "I have never understood the opposition to the idea that biology may make result in some aggregate differences in psychiatric function"

isn't a lotta the opposition from people who have never had general biology, genetics or statistics class?

always good to hear from the sociology dept.

"always good to hear from the sociology dept."

Why am I the only one to applaud this sally? Bravo, sir.

So you're a feminist

I don't know people who oppose the idea that there are differences in biology. I do know many women who get frustrated at the conversation of biological differences driving job preferences, because it is typically used as evidence that discrimination is not real or significant. Many people seem to believe that biology can account for the majority of differences in career outcomes (both in job selection and achievenemtn), and therefore efforts to address bias are a waste of time. It can be true that both biological differences exist and discrimination exists. The folks that focus on biological differences don't seem to recognize that.

Then it must be extremely inconvenient that when women have more freedom they run even farther away from STEM.

But then it was never about truth.

There is nothing in these personality profiles that predict who would or would not be interested in STEM. Using it to suggest that this explains why less women are in STEM is silly. And even if you accept all the leaps of faith (and these differences are causative, biological in basis and lead to less interest in STEM), it still does not mean that there is not sexism that drives many more women out. An alternative hypothesis could be that as countries grow richer, women have greater ability to avoid toxic, sexist work environments. That doesn't make sexist workplaces OK.

If it is indeed sexual harassment that is driving women from STEM fields then the logical prediction would be that sexual harassment is worse in STEM than elsewhere.

Is it?

One of the games in Berne's taxonomy is IWFY- If It Weren't For You.

In sum, greater availability of material and social resources facilitates the independent development and expression of individual-specific preferences, and hence may lead to an expansion of individual differences in more developed and equal-opportunity countries.

This explanation makes sense in terms of choice of occupations and consumption choices, but why would it explain differences in measures of trust, patience, and altruism?

Many people dislike having to trust others feeling anxiety about what might happen and feeling the negative emotions of broken trust more strongly. Other people like the feeling of kinship that comes with trust and feel the positive side more fully.

In subsistence cultures the level of trust you can exhibit in your life is culturally determined. Being a low trust individual in a high trust society means people think you are weird and you might not receive your portion of shared resources in a crisis. Being a high trust individual in a low trust society means that you may be conned out of resources more often. In all cases you very rarely could move into a new society that matched your preferences.

Today the consequences for following the level of trust that weights your preferred tradeoff between seeking upside gain and avoiding downside loss is much more practical. If you are the odd man out, chances of you starving (or your kids) are basically nil.

All of the virtues (and heck all of the vices) come with costs and benefits. Patience enables cooperation with less reliable individuals but can diminish your personal efficiency. Altruism builds social capital when others are also altruistic, but can leave you isolated and resource poor if others are strictly selfish.

All things in moderation, but the optimal moderation point depends on the asymmetric values placed on upside gain and downside loss.

... so a higher societal level of productivity and standard of living ... permits people to pursue greater self-fulfillment and independent development ???

geez, this is obvious stuff... known for a very very long time.

Give them some credit for collecting the data. I suspect the authors went into this with some prejudice (for a particular conclusion); but not everyone accepts a trivial explanation for gender differences.

I disagree that "results like this can explain why...". The best "results like this" can do are to suggest more questions as to the actual questions to address to discover "why". (i.e. In order to get the true answer, we need to ask the right question(s).) It is, blatantly obvious that the results can NOT "explain" anything, but at best only DESCRIBE the thing(s) we need to be looking at to get to "the answer". I don't think it reasonable (especially for an academic) to suggest that a phenomenon (an observation) "explains" anything. Like Prigogine suggested (1980), unless you understand the process (of becoming), you understand very little. And let's face it, the process (mechanism) can not be provided by a single study, not even by a single discipline (branch of knowledge).

The other important thing to note is that the effect size tends to be on the range of half a standard deviation. As is usual given a normal distribution, the differences get exacerbated on the tails, which is usually more important for things like picking (and succeeding) in careers than for everyday hobbies and avocations.

E.g., on a trait which is more "feminine" in the sense that the female mean is shifted higher by half a standard deviation, you would expect to find 50% of women and 30% of men greater than the female average, so with a qualifying bar there 62.5% of a hypothetical would be female. Conversely, 2.3% of women but 0.6% of men are greater than 2 sd above the female average, so something with a qualifying bar there would be 80% female, while moving a bar down to 1 standard deviation below the female mean would have 84% of women and 69% of men qualify, so the population that qualifies would be 55% female, and so on (at 2 sd below, the sex ratio is only 51%).

This is something that most people realize in other contexts, like sports. If modern life requires more specialization, and it does, then you should see more sex differentiation in the more specialized roles.

Yes. The more specialized the occupation, the more complex the endeavor, the more demanding the requirements the more the tail effects apply.

There are very few female bricklayers and a very large proportion of men would be incapable of doing the work. Because of the tails in strength and size, more men are capable. The work is heavy and physically demanding.

Outside of the specific requirements of the job, I'm seeing the life cycle demands having a larger effect. I see women setting up or working in organizations that have more reasonable hour requirements, are typically shorter term relationship arrangements, where one person can be easily replaced by another of equal skill. This allows for women to have children, to have the necessary flexibility that young children require.

Such lovely responses, MR commentariat! So nice to come upon people comfortable within this framework again.

We remember it, its familiar. Hello, wisdom, my old friend. That romp we had through identity politics was fun, but identity is a static heuristic and so not real outside it's little tea party or pipe dream.

That ongoing differentiation is how the universe is experienced I could see for myself since birth and have read in sections of the Bhagavad Gita and in E. T. Jaynes papers on entropy. It is not new, novel, rare or strange.

That we are all the same except for [boogeyman] is a fad past its prime.
Time to move on.

Everybody gets to be themselves! Rejoice!

Another bot troll?

No. I wrote that this morning and have been posting at MR under that name off and on for 4-5 years. Never seen another China Cat here, either.

Yes, I've seen you before and usually enjoy your contributions.

This subject seems to upset you, though.

Upset? Hardly. Moved with enthusiasm and relief.

I want to sing from the mountaintops that: The whole manifest world is only sensible through differences! And all of it is just fine! In fact, its beautiful. Think about it: If two things were the same, you wouldn't know two things, only one. Everything we sense in this earthy passage is a distinction. And we are all living in our own distinction space and that's OK.

If anyone has anything you (I don't mean you, I'd use 'one' but it would be clunky) don't, they probably understand something you don't, did something you won't, or traded something you won't give up. If you want that thing, set to pondering or working or sacrificing. If you don't want that thing, give thanks you don't have it and let them be. As Rilke said, "Surely, life is right."

Big 5 personality differences also show the same trend: https://phys.org/news/2018-10-personality-differences-sexes-largest-gender.html. More divergence male female.

Curiously for feminist thought, this is usually on the order that "women generally rated themselves as more worried (neuroticism), social (extraversion), inquisitive (openness), caring (agreeableness) and responsible (conscientiousness) than men, and these relative differences were larger in gender equal countries".

That is, women tend to give themselves more positive traits, other than neuroticism, everywhere, and this is most pronounced in nations that are under feminism. Men tend to give themselves more negative traits everywhere, other than neuroticism, and this is most pronounced (men most negative about themselves) under feminism.

Tabarrok: As Mises once said the very idea of personality as we know it today is a result of the market economy. The small gender differences some people focus on are merely the averaging by gender of much larger individual differences. Thus, I would revise the authors

If that's the case, you'll find general personality compression in non-market societies. Not the same absolute variation with higher sex differences.

I actually don't think you will find this. Indeed basic familiarity with literature and human history rather suggests against such a position (sheeple of market societies don't seem obviously more systematically variable in personality, but rather proscribed). But it'd be interesting to test that way.

Alternative hypotheses:

- Gender egalitarianism means men and women put themselves on the same scale more. In sex inegalitarian systems, men rates themselves relative to men and women relative to women, so sex differences are invisible. Once men and women start becoming more egalitarian and assessing themselves against all people rather than just their own sex, differences become statistically more visible. Of course, the Levantine+North African+Arabian societies don't play ball with this.

- The "Feminism Sucks" hypothesis: Men under feminism and women under feminism generally tend to have a more negative view of men and positive view of women, and this results in self biased perceptions where men see themselves with more negative traits (more negative reciprocity, lower altruism and trust, higher risk taking).

" greater availability of material and social resources facilitates the independent development and expression of individual-specific preferences"

This could be another reason why progressives prefer socialism. They don't always like how others choose to live.

My chief remaining skepticism is that this might be a matter of co-causality rather than implying an arrow of causation. That, economic development, gender equality, and gender differences are all effects of the same cultural phenomena.

The idea of them being co-causal is suggested by recently published work concluding that the sexual selection effects of arranged marriage, presumably more common in gender unequal societies, on males tends to reduce overall aggressive behavior. While this is a far cry from concluding that men and women actually do share more vocational preferences in such societies, it does suggest that profoundly different sexual selection forces are in play in these societies than are in more gender equal ones.

To be clear, I abuse the concept of sexual selection here to apply to behavioral traits as well as to the societal gene pool.

Has "phenomena" become singular because it sounds feminine, Mr T?


Outstanding link!

"there are proportionately fewer women entering STEM fields in richer and more gender-equal countries than in poorer and less gender-equal countries."

My impression is that males tend to be harder working in more gender equal countries like Sweden than in less gender equal countries like Iran.

So, more girls take on the tough STEM subjects in the more male chauvinist countries because more boys are too lazy to do so.

Isn’t this basically what got James Damore fired from google for saying?

Not really, he was big on the biological differences, this is about cultural ones. Damore didn't have evil thoughts, and what he posted was worthy of debate, but he should have kept it private. As I've said above, if you get off discussing group differences do so at a place like this, and if you work somewhere you suspect you will create problems for yourself, do so anonymously.

actually if you read what he wrote he suggests that some
biological differences may lead to some cultural differences
they are not always 2 different things.
and as far as keeping these ideas private/anonymous that sorta
goes against the whole idea of the biology dept where
you study stuff like this and you don't don't have to
do it anonymously-free enquiry

Damore worked in the Google biology department?

ur premise that biological science should be subrosa is sorta medieval
and leads to goopy magical thinking

Not only was he focused on biological differences, but he also advocated that those differences cause women to be less able and interested to work in technology and therefore Google should eliminate their diversity programs. Given that the acceptance rate of women's code varies based on whether people know that a women wrote it, Google has good reason to be concerned when an employee very pubicly states that they don't believe that women aren't cut for that line of work. As a woman, I sure wouldn't want James to be in charge of my hiring or my career path.

Yep, agreed

It is not the case that men and women in more primitive societies do the same jobs. On an old type farm the men were out in the fields because that was harder. Women cooked and made clothing and tended the garden because not as hard and because you can do those things while watching children. The point is however that neither of these work roles really allowed gender preferences or expression to develop much.

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