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An interesting claim about culture and gender

August 12, 2017 - 11:48 -- Admin

“Research has shown that cultures with greater gender equity have larger sex differences when it comes to job preferences, because in these societies, people are free to choose their occupations based on what they enjoy.”

A month ago, a Google employee wrote a memo about his take on Google’s gender diversity efforts; last week it went public (and then Google fired him).

Rather than adding my two cents to a now heated debate, I just want to highlight the research result in the opening quote above, which has come out during the course of that debate. The paraphrasing above comes courtesy of the neuroscientist Debra Soh.

It’s also discussed by psychiatrist Scott Alexander, of Slate Star Codex fame here. He points to a paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “Why Can’t a Man Be More Like a Woman? Sex Differences in Big Five Personality Traits Across 55 Cultures“.

The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology paper essentially agrees with the apparently pre-existing idea that “sex differences in personality traits are larger in prosperous, healthy, and egalitarian cultures in which women have more opportunities equal with those of men.” So, the argument goes, there might be proportionately more female computer programmers in Guyana than in Sweden, because in Sweden women are much freer to become whatever they want to become – and computer programming isn’t that many women’s first preference.

In the context of the memo debate, this work is being used in service of the argument that differences in gender representation in workplace can be ascribed to “interests, not abilities”.

I’d never come across this claim before. I can see how it could be true. Still, it’s a remarkable idea. At the moment I haven’t seen anyone pushing back against it.

(Follow me on Twitter @shorewalker1.)