Two perspectives on sex differences


Jason Collins


October 20, 2011

First, from Rob Brooks:

Lead author Moshe Hoffman and his collaborators compared two tribes living in north-east India. …

Karbi women may not own land, and property is passed from father to the oldest surviving son.

But the Khasi ban men from owning land, and men are expected to hand their earnings over to their wives. The youngest daughter in a Khasi family traditionally inherits the land from her mother. …

They gave villagers a very simple four-piece puzzle and timed how quickly each person solved it.

It turns out that, in the patrilineal Karbi, men took an average of 42 seconds but women took around 57 seconds to solve the puzzle. But Khasi girls and boys did not differ significantly (35 and 32 seconds respectively) from one another. …

Such a simple experiment shows a persistent and common sex difference can entirely disappear in a culture where girls and their education are considered every bit as valuable as boys and theirs.

Meanwhile, Robert Kurzban notes that some sex differences are more robust when he takes on a new paper on six potential sex differences:

They discuss six areas of potential differences, and even though it’s a bit like starting the meal with dessert, I can’t resist opening with the second of the questions that they pose (p. 297). After discussing the issue of whether men or women want to have more sexual partners, they ask:

But what about when _actual _number of sexual partners are assessed? Are men actually having sex with large numbers of women whereas women are more selective?
Now, because of the way that averages work – and the fact that sex is a two player game –  it just has to be true that, on average, men and women are having sex with the same number of partners. So, this is a silly question to ask, like, How many times have you committed suicide? or, Is anyone at Current Directions editing manuscripts?

Kurzban concludes:

Anyway, of the six differences they discuss, the authors conclude that four of them are genuine (though they add “but’s” and offer some (proximate) explanations for the differences). In one of the remaining two, they find that women and men have the same number of actual partners, on average, a fact that had to be true. Finally, they conclude that women and men have the same preferences “in real world contexts,” based on a narrow set of data in the “real world context” of speed dating events set up by academics for college students.

I recommend subscribing to Kurzban’s feed.