Do male personalities vary more than female personalities?

First, I should note I’m not trying to make any ignorant statement like AWALT (All Women Are Like That). It’s obvious that people of both sexes vary tremendously in character.

I’ve already talked about how there are more male criminals, more male white nationalists, more male savants, and more men with autism. It seems like males are more prone to having “extreme” psychological traits in general than women.

It’s a fact that there is more variation in intelligence between men than between women. Neither sex on the whole is smarter than the other (though on average women seem slightly more intelligent to me), but there are more male geniuses, as well as more male idiots.

It’s also been shown that female brains have more in common with each other in terms of structure than male brains do. Since personality is largely determined by the brain, would it be a stretch to say this also means that female personalities tend to cluster around the norm moreso than male personalities?

Some casual observations of society seem to suggest this. For example, most pop music fans and adherents of fashion are women. On the other hand “fringey” interests such as punk, heavy metal, conspiracy theories, and drug use tend to be dominated by men. Women are also somewhat more likely to be religious. This seems to suggest that women tend closer to the “mean” of human personality traits.

I also notice how we tend to use the word “eccentric” to describe an unusual man, but “quirky” (a much less strong word, imo, that implies only slight weirdness) to describe an unusual woman.

In my experience most women are well-adjusted, balanced, kind, and orthodox, even if they vary greatly in terms of things like political views, religious beliefs or taste in music. The vast majority of them are maternal towards children, animals, and the elderly. Most of them are interested in social justice to some degree. Perhaps 5-10% fall outside of these general norms.

Men on the other hand, I couldn’t make any generalizations about based on my experiences, except perhaps the fact that most men are into sports and think about sex a lot. Some men are nice, some are assholes, some are well-adjusted, many are not, some are pretty “normal”, others are different or downright strange.

Most “weirdos” of all kinds seem to be men, and even though women are probably more tolerant of other cultures and viewpoints, they seem less tolerant of oddness in individuals.

Is there any evidence to back these thoughts up? Are women more likely to cluster into the more common Myers-Briggs types, for example? Or am I totally wrong?

I wonder if (assuming it’s true) a greater variance of male personality types could partially explain why history as we tell it is primarily a story of men. After all, it’s the weirdos, psychopaths, and geniuses that change the course of world events, not so much “normal” people who are well adjusted to society.

I hope this doesn’t come off as sexist towards either gender, because I’m only asking for people’s insights.

About the Myers-Briggs: I looked it up and apparently 56.3% of women are either ISFJ, ESFJ, ESFP or ISFP. So out of 16 general personality types, more than half of women fall into 4 of them.

For men, the four most common personality types in order are ISTJ, ESTJ, ISTP, and ISFJ, which combined make up 44.2% of all men.

The 4 least common types of personalities in women in order are INTJ, ENTJ, INFJ, and INTP, which together make up 5.1% of women. For men the 4 least common types are INFJ, ENFJ, ENTJ, and INTJ, which together make up 8.9% of men.

I believe it was the president of Yale who got in trouble for pointing this out.

But basically, women’s genetic characteristics are a blend (or more precisely, a random mix) of the genetic traits on both X chromosomes. Where there are two genes controlling a characteristic, the gene on one of the X chromosomes “turns off” to allow the other to determine the trait. Some of these genes are not found on the Y chromosome which is smaller. As a result, females are more likely to be “average” - fewer geniuses, fewer morons, etc. If one of the X chromosomes has a code for “stupid” or “crazy” only half the women with that gene will express it; whereas every man with that gene will.

Obviously, statistically this does not matter, unless the trait requires multiple genes be all the proper ones for it to express - then there’s a chance that the sequence would be interrupted in a female. Let’s say X1 - genes a,b,c,d are needed. On a male with that, it would express. On a female, there’s a chance she would express, say, X1 a and b and X2 c and d… So men are more likely to have a greater deviation from the norm. (“you should see the size of my sigma!”)

The flaw in this logic is of course that we have a lot more than one pair of chromosomes. (23) So, unless a trait is tied to the X there should be no sexual difference in that trait.

the other question is how much character is determined by nature vs. nurture, which is the intelligence debate all over again… plus the fact that statistics about 7 billion people tell you nothing about an individual.

Huh. Since we’re speaking in generalities, I tend to think of menfolk as more bland, with less individual variation in personality, than womenfolk. I think this is mostly because men are taught to repress the full range of their emotions and interests, and the ones that they’re traditionally “allowed” to have aren’t interesting to me, so they often seem monolithic and boring.

I’m a man and I sort of agree with this. I have a WAY easier time making small talk with women than I do men.

I sometimes think sports was invented to give strange men something to talk about with each other. And since I don’t do sports, it makes small talk with other men rather difficult.
Women on the other hand can talk about darn near anything.

X-inactivation happens at the level of individual cells, not at the level of individual people. So in any given woman, one-half of her cells express the paternal allele of gene X, and the other half will express the maternal allele.

The fact that the X chromosome is pretty big and has a lot of important genes on it, and only women have backup copies of (most of) those genes, is suspected to be part of the reason that boys have a higher incidence of intellectual disabilities and neuro-psychological disorders.

However, regarding the OP’s question, I think everyone is severely underestimating the effects of culture and childrearing; there’s extensive research showing that girls are more strongly pressured to “fit in”, to “get along”, and to be well-behaved, nice, considerate, quiet, etc., whereas aggressive / disruptive behavior and “weirdness” is comparatively more tolerated in boys. In particular, contrary to OP’s suggestion, women are much more harshly penalized for being “eccentric” in public or professional contexts. (Women can get away with being “quirky” only when the behavior in question is perceived as cute.) So even if the assertion that men have more personality variance is true (which I am not convinced of), ascribing a biological origin to this difference is very premature.

Camille Paglia said something like, [paraphrasing] “There won’t be a female Mozart until there’s a female Jack the Ripper.”

I think what she meant was that men are more extreme, and that they are extreme on both ends, creativity and cruelty.

I don’t know, would we give up Mozart for an absence of Jack the Ripper?

So basically, most women would be closer to the “mean” rather than the extremes…

I think the culture aspect is also grossly underestimated. Men could have all sorts of quirky callings, hobbies, or preoccupations, that women were not allowed. When I was growing up, “model railroad” was a big hobby for grown men. Did their wives participate in anything similar that consumed as much time or money? No, unless it was domestic activities related - baking, making quilts, that sort of culturally determined sexist stuff. Finances, typically the man worked and the woman did not, also had much to do with it, as well as - as you mention - she was expected to do the primary child-rearing work. Men got to obsess about their painting or sculpture, their mountain climbing, their hunting, their whatever activities.

I look at more recent sf and comic cons, for example, and girls and women participate to an extent I did not see decades ago now that cultural repression is less than previously. True, they seem to have different obsessions, but they have obsession. Some interests (Harry Potter?) it appears to me are equal-opportunity.

OTOH, whenever I read about say, schizophrenia or epilepsy or other problem, is it simply cultural bias that in stories in the media, those traits seem to be focussed on men?

And this I the

That’s definitely part of it. It’s true women are more free to pursue hobbies than they ever have been. It’s not that women are less obsessive than men - it’s that their obsessions seem to be more common, in particular with other women. I don’t think the Harry Potter fandom or an interest in manga/fantasy/sci-fi is the sign of a shift - women have been known to read more than men, especially fiction. Along with an interest in animals, children, and fashion, fiction reading seems to be one of the key interests the majority of women share. Even my close female friend who’s a rather psychologically masculine INTJ shares 3 out of 4 of these interests, and is pretty much obsessed with animals and fiction in particular (nothing wrong with that of course, just noting that the vast majority of women also share these interests).

Of course most men like dogs and kids too (and some are into fashion and fiction), but not to the extent and near-universality that women do (if you’re a woman and can’t stand children and dogs, I apologize for stereotyping you).

Now, if a bunch of women started collecting coins (I collect them, and sadly nearly all coin collectors are men), I would be strongly convinced of a big change.

I went to a horse-jumping show a few decades ago (because the woman I was chasing had a horse and was into jumping…) The majority of the participants (80% to 90%) were women. I suspect it has something to do with empathy - women like animals while men in the same category like noisy motorcycles and cars. (She thought it was hilarious when I suggested that empathy made the difference when suggesting men were more likely to regard a horse as just a “meat motorcycle”)

Oh yeah, the vast majority of horse enthusiasts are women. Even a lot of male animal lovers don’t seem particularly interested in them.

I agree with you about the empathy thing. Women tend to like relationships more, while men gravitate towards things and competitions.

I seem to recall Conan Doyle having Sherlock Holmes make what could seem rather the opposite observation – thinking about virtue and wickedness, rather than creativity: to the effect of “women have a greater range than we men have, for extremes of goodness and evil”. Of course, Sherlock was brilliant at detecting, but a bit clueless about a fair number of other aspects of life…

I argue he was 100 percent wrong. There’s no doubt the worst villains in history have been men, and I would argue most of the greatest heroes have also been men.

I agree with the poster that throughout history more villains have been men, but disagree that more heroes are men. Women’s roles in the past have been hampered by the control of men. Once women change that inequity I believe women will surpass men as heroes.

I recently saw the movie Hidden Figures. I had no idea that women, black women, had such a big role in NASA.

The theory of men having the extremes in personalities is interesting. I’ve taken that Briggs test but I don’t remember what the summary of it was. And I think the murder victims and their families would trade Mozart!

I agree with most of the first half of the OP, but the second half contains observations and conclusions that differ from my experience (from “Some casual observations of society” onward).

It’s been said that women are hardier than men (live longer, fall ill less frequently and withstand greater pain) because they’re the ones who give birth, and I wouldn’t be surprised if “clustering around the norm” served the same purpose.

And culture. Enormously. It took me a while to digest the notion that “girls are assumed to be horse-crazy”… in the US. Most of the dog people I know are men, as well, but then, a lot of them are also hunters and that’s a male-dominated activity.

There are no doubt differences between the genders.
But, for most of history, most doors have been closed to women, and even if you argue that the doors are open now (and that’s debatable), the cultural legacy of that doesn’t change overnight.
And so the kinds of assertion in the OP are the sort I would personally be very tentative about.

There are so many fields where people started out saying “Women can’t do X” then “Some outlier women can do X, but most can’t” to “Women on average are less good at X than men”. But have we now reached the equilibrium state for X?

And yes I’m familiar with some of the IQ testing to support some of these ideas, but IQ testing itself I don’t think is as conclusive as some think: individuals can improve in IQ tests with practice, whole societies get better over time and so on. None of that would be true if we could really measure intelligence via a short test.


According to the Wiki article, women have a much greater incidence of personality disorders, though I suspect, that given traditional gender roles and expectations, males with such disorders may suffer the more. Or superficially so, at least.

Individuals can improve their tricep strength through practice as well. Does that mean that the bench press isn’t an accurte test of upper body strength?

Anyway, we know that 1) for a great many cognitive and personality traits, a very rough rule of thumb is that about 30-70% of variation is due to genetic variation, and 2) within genders, prenatal androgen exposure influences a wide variety of personality traits, so the combination of those two things is enough to convince me that most of the male vs. female personality differences we observe are innate, rather than culturally determined.