May 21st 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY It's a queer theory, with 51 closets to come out of (Part One of two parts)

CANBERRA OBSERVED Labor may find it's not easy to avoid being green

EDITORIAL Double-dissolution trigger may have misfired

ENVIRONMENT Cut tax breaks to wonky green groups: committee

HUMAN RIGHTS Honorary fellow means to dishonourable end

POLITICAL BIOGRAPHY Remembering "populate or perish": Arthur Calwell

EUTHANASIA Belgium: where the devil is refining the details

RESEARCH The scientific objectivity of gender difference (Part Two of two)

MUSIC The muse, leisure and the importance of play

CINEMA Technology and war's cost: Eye in the Sky

BOOK REVIEW Preserving essential social values

BOOK REVIEW Putting postmodernism in its grave



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The scientific objectivity of gender difference (Part Two of two)

by Glenn T. Stanton

News Weekly, May 21, 2016

Further to what we saw in the last edition (News Weekly, May 7, 2016), research is also uncovering fascinating information that is counterintuitive to the 21st-century mind.

Science shows the

differences start at

the top and go all the

way down.

Given that cultures are different and that male and female differences are demonstrated to varying degrees in different cultures, where would you imagine gender differences between male and female to be most pronounced?

Would that be in traditional, developing cultures, where men and women have to depend on each other for daily survival, where today’s food is collected, prepared, cooked, and consumed today? Or in modern cultures that are more technologically, economically and politically advanced, where men and women have the resources and cultural freedoms to become and do what they desire?

It seems that when they enjoy greater freedom – financially, politically, and culturally – men become more stereotypically masculine and women more stereotypically feminine. This is, however, more true for women.

The New York Times summarised the findings of personality tests in more than 60 different countries and cultures: “It looks as if personality differences between men and women are smaller in traditional cultures like India’s or Zimbabwe’s than in the Netherlands or the United States.” The New York Times concludes: “The more Venus and Mars have equal rights and similar jobs, the more their personalities seem to diverge.”[1]

This research was led by David P. Schmitt, director of the International Sexuality Description Project. He observes that as wealthy modern nations remove the old barriers between men and women, “some ancient internal differences are being revived”.[2]

According to these findings, when men and women have the opportunity – provided by greater education, financial recourses, and political and cultural freedom – to move beyond traditional gender expectations and roles to become whatever they want to be, they actually become even more distinctly masculine or feminine, even if in some seemingly non-traditional ways.

As well, The New York Times reported that gender differences in personalities were greater across the more gender-equitable North America and Europe than across the less gender-equitable Asia and Africa. This led these scholars generally to favour a biological basis for gender difference over cultural construction, because when culture allowed for more freedom and opportunities, the gender distinctions became more pronounced.[3]

Earlier research, in 2001 and as early as 1990, arrived at essentially the same conclusion: in more developed, individualistic, progressive, and egalitarian countries, gender differences don’t shrink, but instead become conspicuously magnified.[4]

Professor Schmitt concludes: “An accumulating body of evidence, including the current data, provides reason to question social role explanations of gender and personality development.”[5]

Social construction or nature?

So, many findings from cutting-edge research reveal “social construction” as the primary reason for gender difference to have little substance. It exists primarily in the minds of the gender-theory folks and those who take their beliefs as truth.

It is interesting to note how robustly science disproves the overly ambitious and confident claims of social-construction gender theory. In the mid-1970s, psychology professor Lois Hoffman boldly proclaimed: “Adult sex roles are converging, and therefore sex differences among children and future generations of adults can be expected to diminish.”[6]

Contrast her statement with a 2001 finding from a major literature survey on sex-typing (the way that gender difference is understood and exhibited), which found: “Taken overall, a substantial body of research reveals a very clear picture: in spite of widespread expectations and desires, the various aspects of gender differentiation are not disappearing, if anything there is an increase in sex-typing, especially with the pattern most expected to decline, the femininity of females.”[7] (emphasis added)

This increasing perception of femininity among women was strongest among women themselves, with both sexes recognising this increase. The researchers conclude: “There is no evidence of change towards a more androgynous personality for either sex.”[8] (emphasis original)

The consistency of differences – and the kinds of differences – in males and females as evidenced in cross-cultural studies provides strong support for the idea that these “stereotypes” of male and female are more deeply rooted in biology than in culture. As the study just cited found: “The findings of this and other research … are not consistent with the sociocultural explanation of gender difference. They are consistent with the evolutionary model.”[9]

More recent writings report the same: “The weight of the empirical evidence, including cross-cultural findings by researchers who have no vested interest in any particular theoretical stance, robustly confirms these evolutionary-based predictions.” And: “These findings are difficult to reconcile with the gender similarities hypothesis.”[10]

One of the primary reasons that males have become more masculine and females more feminine is in their sheer psychic and emotional comfort in being so. People in more prosperous countries are voting with their resources and freedoms and becoming more stereotypically gender distinct. Mate attraction also plays an important role. As finding a good man or woman as a mate gets more difficult because of rising expectations and busy schedules, both men and women are becoming more gender-distinct in their mate-attracting efforts. Their advertising gets more vivid, if you will, not because they are forced to, but because they want to. They know what is more likely to get the desired results.

A primary reason that the idea of any differences between male and female are so strongly resisted today is that many equate difference with inferiority and superiority. Women are different from men, therefore they must be weaker. This is a wild and unfortunate leap in reasoning. We do not come to such a conclusion in other parts of life where things are different. Italian food is different from sushi. A vacation in the mountains is different from one at the seashore. But we do not assume that one of these is better than the other because they are different. Both have their own distinct qualities that simultaneously make each better than the other in different ways at different times in different situations.

Alice Eagly shows that the political and social consequences of marking the differences between male and female do not fall harder on the females. In a journal article entitled, “The science and politics of comparing women and men”, Eagly explains that in dealing in male and female stereotypes, “the stereotypes of women [are] more positive overall than the stereotypes of men, at least in contemporary samples of U.S. and Canadian college students.”[11]

She adds that the literature on gender difference indeed “does not tell a simple tale of female inferiority”. It is not a small point to note that she is writing here in the early to mid-1990s, examining earlier records in a time when we were less mindful of avoiding gender stereotypes in academic work.

The importance of gender-distinct parents

To hold to a gender-construction theory of gender difference, or that male and female are only different in the bedroom or bathroom, must be done either in ignorance or denial of a mountain of impressive anthropological, psychological, and neurological scientific research that reveals the opposite.

It is actually personal and social androgyny that is a social construct, for it only exists within the rickety ideological scaffolding of gender-studies theory. It must be built and sustained with great intention, ideological force, and political power.

This belief can lead us to some very dangerous results. Male and female matter for society, first and foremost because they are essential to the family. Just as male and female are different kinds of human being, mothers and fathers are different kinds of parent, bringing different things to the irreplaceable task of parenting that both boys and girls need. The family as a universal, pan-historical fundamental is inherently gendered for many reasons.

The literature on the importance of fathers for healthy child development explores this well, and is so convincing that it compelled the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations each to develop robust father involvement programs.[12] And few dare doubt the importance of mothers for healthy and happy child development. What are some of the ways that mothers and fathers as gender-distinct parents contribute different but necessary things to healthy child development?[13]


Notice young parents and notice how fathers and mothers interact differently with their infant. Who is more likely to get the child giggling wildly and physically excited and active? Fathers have been shown to be more physically stimulating, unpredictable, and rousing with their babies than are mothers. Mothers tend to be more soothing, comforting, and quieting.

One study shows us that 70 per cent of father/infant play is very physical and active, while only 4 per cent of mother/infant play tends to be this way.[14] In fact, one study showed that when given the choice, two-and-a-half year olds were more likely to gravitate towards father as a play partner than towards mom because of his manner of play.[15] Children need both mum’s and dad’s ways of play.


As our children start exploring the world, they need at least two things: safety from dangerous situations; and encouragement to explore in safe ways. Mothers are masters at keeping children safe.

Fathers, while they do not care for the wellbeing of their children any less, are more inclined to teach their children to have new experiences and to do so confidently. Father’s way is more likely to experience scrapes and bruises. It is the rare father who warns: “I don’t think he’s ready for that yet!”

Consider something each of us sees quite often, regardless of where in the world we come from: tossing babies in the air.

This is actually an important development experience. When the child goes up, he or she unmistakably wears an expression of great terror. The toss literally takes the breath away. But as physics does its thing, as sure as they go up, they come down. As each child reconnects with the strong arms and hands that tossed them, nearly to a child, what happens? If the child is verbal, he or she says “Again!” with great excitement. They love it, and there is a whole industry built on this thrilling experience: amusement parks.

In the up and down of this throw, the child learns the world can be a scary place. When they come back down into safe hands, they learn that they can depend on others to be there for them. This builds confidence and the stimulation to take reasonable risks, to be willing to swim away from the dock a bit in life. But we must ask: Who do we see tossing babies the most? It’s not mum or grandma. It’s daddy, grandpa, or Uncle Bob. Men throw babies.[16]


As the kids grow older, close your eyes at the playground and listen to the parents there. Who is more likely to say, “Climb up to the next branch!” “You can do it!” “Run a bit faster!” or “Try jumping off from there – I’ll catch you!”? From whom are you more likely to hear “Be careful!” “Slow down!” “Not so high!” or “Don’t go so far!”? Both mums and dads will say any of these things to be sure, but one is far more likely to say them. They are not gender neutral!

Consider language development. Scholars studying such things tell us that mothers and fathers communicate differently with their children. Mother’s way of communicating with her children creates a quicker, easier connection. She knows how to connect with the child on his or her level. Fathers are less likely to moderate their vocabulary for their children.[17] They use bigger words, not because they are smarter than mum, but because they are just not as mindful of what their children do or do not understand.

Mum’s way facilitates immediate communication and understanding. Dad’s way often facilitates a vocabulary lesson. Both are necessary and beneficial.

This is also true of non-verbal communication. Fathers are more likely to communicate through sounds, grunts, and facial expression. Children are more likely to experience a disapproving “ehh!” or an I’m-thinking-about-it “ummm” from dad than from mum. Children, particularly girls, who will experience these things in the adult world from male coaches and bosses, will be more comfortable and confident in interacting with and responding to such communication and not be hurt, confused, or intimidated by it.

Consider as well the development of motor skills. As fathers tend to be more physical and exerting, they are more likely to help their boys and girls develop their large motor skills: throwing, catching, balancing, climbing, hammering, jumping. Mothers are more likely to help develop fine motor skills: drawing, cutting, sewing, gluing, braiding.[18] Again, certainly these differences are not gender absolute, but we do find that mothers are more likely to teach their children one set of things and fathers others.


Fathers and mothers make important contributions in adolescence as well, when children are learning to navigate the world more independently. Fathers are more likely to work at preparing their children for the challenges and dangers of the world, while mothers are more interested in and better at protecting them from the dangers of the world. Both have the child’s best interests in mind, but they go about it in different ways.

Consider a lightning storm or vicious dog in the neighbourhood. Mum’s direction is short and sweet: stay away. Dad does not encourage his children to seek out such things, but he realises such challenges are out there and wants to make sure his child knows the safest thing to do when dangerous situations present themselves.[19]

Teen years

Consider children’s developing sexuality as well, a key part of healthy human development. Girls who are well loved and cared for by a good, safe father are not as likely to fall for the lame advances of immature boys. Girls who do not have this in a father are indeed much more likely to fall for such a boy because they so desperately want to know what it feels like to be important to a male. Hence, it is no surprise that girls growing up in fatherless homes are dramatically more likely to get pregnant before marriage.

A boy who grows up with a good dad also learns how to demonstrate his masculinity in healthier, pro-social ways. He is not as likely to be physically violent or dominating. He does not have as much of a need to prove himself, because his father has already given him this confirmation and acceptance. He is not as likely to be a “player” sexually because he has learnt from his father how properly to treat and respect a lady. His sister also witnesses this healthy male behaviour and learns that she will not settle for less.

Mums and dads are not just necessary for the creation of new life. They are just as essential for the development of that life into full, healthy masculinity and femininity. There are obviously single parents who have done remarkable work in raising their children to be respected and desirable community leaders. But these parents, nearly to a person, will tell us that if they could have had it any other way, they would have preferred to have their child’s other parent alongside in a healthy, loving manner.

Few think “alone” is inherently better or even equal. As we observe parenting around the world, throughout history, we see the necessity of mothers and fathers as a human universal. It is only in the present age, in the last few nanoseconds of human history, that we have assumed that mothers and fathers are only needed if the adults in the family desire them.

Such a belief is contrary to a very diverse body of honest empirical science as well as basic daily experience. This will become more evident to us, and contribute to a larger and more convincing body of research literature, after we try to raise a generation of children in the current and untested experiment of the gender theorists.

Glenn T. Stanton is director of Global Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family and a research fellow at the Institute of Marriage and Family in Ottawa, Ontario. This essay is adapted from a presentation given at the World Congress of Families IX, October 27-30, 2015, in Salt Lake City, Utah.



[1] John Tierney, “As barriers disappear, some gender gaps widen,” New York Times, September 9, 2008.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Robert R. McCrae, “Universal features of personality traits from the observer’s perspective: Data from 50 cultures”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 88 (2005), pp547–561.

[4] John E. Williams and Deborah L. Best, Sex and Psyche: Gender and Self Viewed Cross-Culturally, Newbury Park, Sage, 1990; Costa et al., “Gender differences in personality traits across cultures,” p329.

[5] Schmitt et al., “Why can’t a man be more like a woman?” Sex differences in big five personality traits across 55 cultures”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 94 (2008), p178.

[6] Lois W. Hoffman, “Changes in family roles, socialization and sex differences”, American Psychologist 32 (1977), pp644–657, at p646.

[7] Lloyd B. Lueptow et al., “Social change and the persistence of sex typing: 1974–1997”, Social Forces 80 (2001), pp1–35, at p16.

[8] Lueptow et al., p19, p22.

[9] Ibid, p24.

[10] David M. Buss and David P. Schmidtt, “Evolutionary psychology and feminism,” Sex Roles 64 (2011), pp768-787, at p783.

[11] Alice H. Eagly, “The science and politics of comparing women and men”, American Psychologist 50(1995): p155.

[12] For example, see the research presented in David Popenoe, Life Without Father: Compelling Evidence that Fatherhood and Marriage are Indispensable for the Good of Children and Society, New York, Free Press, 1996; David Blankenhorn, Fatherless America: Confronting Our Nation’s Most Urgent Social Problem, New York, Basic Books, 1995; Kyle Pruett, Fatherneed: Why Father Care is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child, New York: Free Press, 2000; Marcia J. Carlson, “Family structure, father involvement and adolescent behavioral outcomes”, Journal of Marriage and Family 68 (2006), pp137–154; Ronald P. Rohner and Robert A. Veneziano, “The importance of father love: History and contemporary evidence”, Review of General Psychology 5 (2001) pp382–405; K. Allison Clarke-Stewart, “And daddy makes three: The father’s impact on mother and young child”, Child Development 49 (1978), pp466–478; Michael E. Lamb, “Fathers: Forgotten contributors to child development”, Human Development 18 (1975), pp245–266.

[13] I address this question in book-length detail in Glenn T. Stanton, Secure Daughters Confident Sons: How Parents Guide Their Children into Authentic Masculinity and Femininity, Colorado Springs, Multnomah, 2011.

[14] Eleanor E. Maccoby, The Two Sexes: Growing Up Apart, Coming Together, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1999, p266.

[15] K. Allison Clarke-Stewart, “The father’s contribution to children’s cognitive and social development in early childhood,” in F.A. Pedersen, ed., The Father-Infant Relationship: Observational Studies in Family Setting, Santa Barbara, Praeger, 1980.

[16] Cf. Stanton, pp171–173.

[17] David Popenoe, Life Without Father: Compelling Evidence that Fatherhood and Marriage are Indispensable for the Good of Children and Society, New York, The Free Press, 1996, p145.

[18] Maccoby, p267.

[19] Cf. Popenoe, p140; Stanton, pp201–207.

All you need to know about
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