Women Are Not Men: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast is called “Women Are Not Men.” (You can subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript below; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

As Stephen Dubner says:

DUBNER: Equality of the sexes has long been a goal, and in many ways that goal is being met. But, as you’ll hear on this program, the variance between men and women on some dimensions is still large. … We’re not trying to start any arguments. We’re just trying to look at the data that show differences between men and women to figure out why those differences exist, and how meaningful they are.

The first story you’ll hear is about the gender gap among editors of the world’s biggest encyclopedia. Bourree Lam (the editor of this blog) looks at why only 16% of Wikipedia’s editors are female — which is puzzling in that women outnumber men on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and even in online games.

Next, you’ll hear about female-male differences in competition. Economist Uri Gneezy and a group of researchers got to study competition in the Masai tribe in Tanzania (which is extremely patriarchal) and the Khasi tribe in India (one of the world’s few matrilineal societies). When it comes to competition, Gneezy says, nurture is key:

GNEEZY: It’s not that men and women are not born differently. I’m sure they are. And you can come up with good evolutionary stories about why men are more competitive than women. What we showed is that’s not the only factor that goes in, which is not a big surprise, but the other factor, the culture can be so big that it can just overturn the results.

(It’s worth noting that Gneezy and John List have a book coming out this fall, which includes a chapter on the Khasi and the Masai; Steve Levitt is writing the foreword.)

Next, you’ll hear from economist Betsey Stevenson about the female happiness paradox — that is, why is it that women’s happiness is in decline even as they are earning more money and gaining more opportunities.

Finally, Steve Levitt and sociologist Jennifer Schwartz talk about one of the biggest gender gaps out there: crime. Leave it to Freakonomics to wonder: if you’re rooting for women and men to become totally and completely equal, should you root for women to commit more crimes?

Audio Transcript

[MUSIC: Nathan Mathes; “Cheer On” (fromBellwether. Arbutus)]


DUBNER: More than half of all college students in the U.S., about 57 percent, are female. As of January, women are no longer barred from combat positions in the United States military. The male-female income gap is tightening. Women hold about 20 percent of the seats in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives– the highest proportion ever. Three of the last five Secretaries of State were women. One of them, Condoleezza Rice, just became one of the first female members of Augusta National Golf Club, one of the oldest and goodest good ol’ boy clubs in America. Equality of the sexes has long been a goal, and in many ways that goal is being met. But, as you’ll hear on this program, the variance between men and women on some dimensions is still large. In other words: women are not men.


[MUSIC: Euforquestra; “Elegua” (fromExplorations in Afrobeat)]



DUBNER: In some ways obvious—And in other ways less so. Patents for instance: Women file only about 7.5% of all patents.

Jennifer HUNT: Well, I was amazed because in many other areas, women are really closing in on men and this gap is just so enormous.

DUBNER: That’s Jennifer Hunt, an economist at Rutgers. She argues that if more women were to patent, it would add nearly 3% to our per-capita GDP. And why, we asked her, do so few women patent?

HUNT: Men are more likely to be in jobs involving design work or development work, so the “D” in the R&D.

DUBNER: Let’s see, what else can I tell you about the differences between women and men? Did you know that women are far less likely to get struck by lightning?

John JENSENIUS: Typically, 80 to 85 percent of the lightning fatalities across the United States are men.

DUBNER: That’s John Jensenius, a lightning specialist at the National Weather Service.

JENSENIUS: We think the reason for that is that men tend to be outside more than women and they also tend not to go inside when lightning threatens.

DUBNER: Men are also more prolific at drowning.#

Julie GILCHRIST: Males have almost 4 times higher drowning rates than females.

DUBNER: That’s Julie Gilchrist from the Centers for Disease Control. It’s not just that men spend more time in the water. They also overestimate their swimming abilities, and drink more. Alright, what else? Women are half as likely as men to become alcoholics, but twice as likely to have a phobia. And women are more likely to kill off a bad marriage—they file for roughly two-thirds of divorces. And here’s an amazing statistic I’m sure you don’t know. We uncovered one thing that women and men do in exactly the same proportion: they listen all the way to the very end of each episode of Freakonomics Radio. So have a seat.


ANNOUNCER: From WNYC and APM, American Public Media, This is Freakonomics Radio, the podcast that explores the hidden side of everything. Here’s your host, Stephen Dubner.


[MUSIC: Pearl Django; “The Conversation” (fromModern Times)]

DUBNER: On today’s show we’re talking about the ways in which women are not men, for better and worse. We’ll start online. Here’s John Riedl, he’s a professor of computer science at the University of Minnesota.

John RIEDL: We know that women have been increasing dramatically as percentage of participation on just about any Internet site you can imagine.


WOMAN 1: The retweet, it’s like viral gold.


WOMAN 2: I’m going to go through a couple of things that you need to know as a new member of Tumbler.


WOMAN 3: Pinterest, the hottest social media site going right now.


RIEDEL: So for instance, females now outnumber males on Facebook and Twitter, and that’s been true just about across any aspect of the Internet you can imagine. Including much to many people’s surprise, online games.


WOMAN 1: Here are a few completely incorrect stereotypes about female gamers. We are ugly. We don’t like violent or scary games. We are only playing games because we lost our way to the kitchen.

DUBNER: But there’s one online realm where women are not so well-represented. Bourree Lam, the editor of Freakonomics.com, has the story.

Bourree LAM: Wikipedia is by far the largest encyclopedia in history. It has more than 24 million articles in 275 languages. Launched in 2001, it’s run by volunteers who call themselves Wikipedians. Now what does this have to do with women? For years not much. But in 2011, a New York Times article, by Noam Cohen, argued that only 1 in 6 Wikipedia editors were women. John Riedl was a bit skeptical, so he decided to run a study.

RIEDL: Much to our shock, we found out that not only was his overall message right on but that the best data we could get suggests that things were even worse in terms of the amount of female contribution. He had reported that about 16% of the editors were women, and we found that to be true. But we found that those females only made about 9% of the edits, which was even more surprising and disappointing.


[MUSIC: Das Vibenbass; “Third Tongue” (fromMindwrestling)]

LAM: It might help to explain how editing on Wikipedia works. As a volunteer, you can click on any article and unless it’s a controversial gated article, you can edit it and add new information. But later, other Wikipedians can delete your edits if they don’t like your changes. That’s called reversion. And if your article is deemed irrelevant, it can be deleted.

Sarah STIERCH: When I started editing Wikipedia, I never really thought that I was the only woman.

LAM: That’s Sarah Stierch. She’s been a Wikipedia editor for nine years. Back then, it had a mere 1 million articles. Stierch remembers the first article she edited.

STIERCH: My first article was deleted; I can proudly say that. I wrote it about a guy in a band that I knew, and it’s no longer on Wikipedia.

LAM: This past year, Stierch has been serving as a Community Fellow for the Wikimedia Foundation. She’s been working on the gender imbalance. She’s trying to get more women involved by hosting meet-ups like this one, not too long ago in Oakland.


LAM: But why are women so underrepresented on Wikipedia, especially when that’s not the case with other big sites like Facebook and Twitter? John Riedl says the Wikipedia imbalance bothers him because….

RIEDL: The first place we all go these days is to Wikipedia, and it really worries me to think about half of all of humanity being left out of creating this information resource, which is the greatest encyclopedia in the history of humanity. And half of humanity is being left out of writing it. And we know for a fact that that half of humanity is getting short shrift.

LAM: It turns out that men even dominate the Wikipedia articles that would seem to be of greatest interest to women. Sarah Stierch again:

STIERCH: There’s the more trivial subjects.




STIERCH: But then there are things that women know the most about next to our doctors, so to say. Pregnancy, abortion…




STIERCH: …those articles are mainly written by men. And they are a contentious subject, oddly enough, pregnancy, yes, is a contentious subject.

LAM: So that seems odd, especially because one in four American doctors is female, along with half the medical school population. So why aren’t women editing Wikipedia?

STIERCH: When I’ve spoken with women around the world, the biggest reason I hear is often, I don’t have time. And that always intrigues me. I mean I get it, I just wrapped up a full time masters working two jobs, you know I’m busy. People who have children, we’re all busy people.

LAM: Men do, in fact, typically have more daily leisure time than women. In the U.S., it’s about 40 minutes a day. And women do tend to do more housework, so, maybe that’s taking up their time. But John Riedl has another explanation.

RIEDL: We know from a bunch of psychology studies that women tend to be made more uncomfortable by conflict than men are made uncomfortable by conflict. And so one of the ideas is maybe in Wikipedia where the fundamental nature of the site is that if you want to correct what someone else has done, the way you do that is you delete it and write them a really mean message. Well, maybe that’s creating a culture of conflict that is driving women away. They just don’t find it a place they enjoy being, and so they go places where they’re happier.


LAM: I remember you told me that there was some backlash to your report?


RIEDL: Yeah when we put the report out one of the things we notice was that a bunch of bloggers—all male, we should say—came out and said, “Well, this is a waste of time. No one needs to be told that there aren’t women editing Wikipedia. They should just suck it up and be tougher and come in and join, there are no technological limitations and so it’s their fault for not participating more.”

[MUSIC: Dave Chisolm; “C-Minor” (fromCalligraphy)]


LAM: But Riedel says there’s something else built into the structure and the ethos of Wikipedia that might be discouraging women.

RIEDL: It’s not a model that everybody has to agree on the content of any one piece of information on Facebook. And I think that on Wikipedia, by contrast, there’s this very different ethos, which is, the job of the community is to make sure that these articles are as high quality as they can, I think that’s a very good thing, and the way we get there is we delete each other’s work when we don’t like it. And that creates a very different style of site, a place where people are constantly being engaged by other people rejecting their work.



[MUSIC: Airbus; “Deep In A Dream” (fromGhosts)]


DUBNER: So John Riedl’s evidence suggests that women and men may have very different appetites for conflict, which might keep some women away from a place like Wikipedia. Hmm. Wouldn’t it be nice to know if somebody out there had looked at this in the context of —well, of men and women competing against each other.

Uri GNEEZY: We looked at competitiveness.

DUBNER: Ah. There you go. That’s Uri Gneezy.

GNEEZY: I’m Uri Gneezy. I’m a behavioral economist at the Rady School of Management at U.C. San Diego. My main research interest is around incentives, how they affect people, and gender differences, some deception, anything that someone can find interesting.  

DUBNER: Freakonomics producer Suzie Lechtenberg has the story.

LECHTENBERG: Uri Gneezy has three kids: two girls and a boy.

GNEEZY: We really tried to raise them in a gender-neutral environment. So we bought our daughters dolls and trucks and they were very happy. They put the dolls on the trucks. So the truck was used, you know, as a stand. My son was also very happy to get the dolls. He smashed them to the wall and ran them over with the car.

[MUSIC: Eleggua Productions; “Diosa”]


LECHTENBERG: But it was unclear to Gneezy how much of this gender difference is nature and how much is nurture.

GNEEZY: When we drove back from the hospital with the babies, I drove and my wife sat near the baby. So socialization starts, you know, at the hospital or when you leave the hospital and the baby is a few days old. And it’s almost impossible to disentangle this from actual behavior.

LECHTENBERG: Gneezy began to think about the salary gap between women and men. It’s well-known that women earn less—the Labor Department says about 82 cents for every dollar a man earns—but why? Well, there’s a lot of research out there. It suggests that, yes, there is discrimination, but also that women have different preferences than men, in work and in family. But what if there was another, overlooked factor that could help explain the gender gap?

GNEEZY: We thought that maybe a big and important difference is how willing men and women are to compete and how do they react to competitive incentives.

LECHTENBERG: To test if men are more competitively inclined, Gneezy and some economist colleagues, wanted to do a field study. They wanted to get away from Western society to see if they could learn how much culture is a factor in how competitive we are.

GNEEZY: We wanted to go to real cultures in the real world and see how they behave. So we took two very extreme cultures. The first one was the Masai in Africa, in Tanzania.

LECHTENBERG: Gneezy and a group of researchers traveled to Arusha in Tanzania. Arusha is near the Kenyan border, not far from Mt. Kilimanjaro. From Arusha, they planned to travel to two Masai villages. The Masai are cattle herding nomads. They are, perhaps, the archetypal African tribe with their beaded jewelry and brightly colored robes. And, as Uri Gneezy says, “Masai culture is very unkind to its women.”

GNEEZY: The Masai is a very extreme patriarchal society in which is you ask a man how many kids he has he will tell you how many boys he has. Women cost about 10 cows, so they are the property of their husband. If the husband doesn’t like what the wife is doing, he can beat her, he can abuse her.

LECHTENBERG: The men are usually in their late 20s to 30s when they marry and they often have multiple wives. Their brides, generally teens, undergo female genital mutilation before marriage. Women do much of the hard labor. As one woman said, “Men treat us like donkeys.”


[MUSIC: Euforquestra; “Obatala” (fromExplorations in Afrobeat)]


LECHTENBERG: Uri Gneezy has studied competition before. Once, he and some colleagues had people compete, solving mazes on computers. He planned to do something similar, with the Masai, except he’d have them solve the mazes on paper, using pens. Right from the start, though, things didn’t go according to plan. The very first Masai woman wasn’t having it…

GNEEZY: She said look, I’m 30, I’ve never held a pen in my life, I don’t see a reason to start now.

LECHTENBERG: Clearly, they needed a plan B.

GNEEZY: The wooden maze that we came up with, that was the next solution.

LECHTENBERG: They spent 12 hours building a maze out of salvaged wood.

GNEEZY: But I’m not a very good carpenter. I’m happy I’m not a carpenter because that would have been really bad.


LECHTENBERG: And were you able to solve your own maze, or?


GNEEZY: No, no, no it had a mistake, it was unsolvable.



LECHTENBERG: So this was a little bit stressful…here the researchers were, ten thousand miles from home…

GNEEZY: We have hundreds of people waiting for us in the field and we don’t have a task. On the way to the hotel I see tennis balls in the bucket. Who would have imagined that in Arusha you would see tennis balls in a bucket in a store? But I did. I bought those tennis balls in the bucket and turned out to be a perfect task.

LECHTENBERG: This is what they’d have people do: Participants were asked to toss a tennis ball underhanded into a bucket about 10 feet away. They had 10 chances. They were matched with another unidentified person playing the same game on the other side of the building.

GNEEZY: The experimenter explained to them the task, you know, throwing the ball into the bucket and asked them a very simple question: Do you want to be paid say one dollar per every success? It wasn’t a dollar, but it was equivalent to that. Or, you can be paid three dollars for every success that you have for every ball that lands in the bucket, but only if you do better than the person behind the corner.

LECHTENBERG: Basically, if the player picked the more competitive option, they could get paid three times the amount of money. Gneezy says it wasn’t long before word got around that these “ridiculous Americans” were paying villagers to throw tennis balls into buckets. People came from all over the village to play. And what happened?

GNEEZY: Many more men chose to compete than women. About twice as many men chose to compete than women did, which is very much in line with what we observe when we run it in the U.S., or any Western society.

LECHTENBERG: Fifty percent of Masai men chose the more competitive option. Meaning they chose to be paid more money if they made more baskets than the person around the corner. The women had less appetite for risk. Twenty-six percent of the women chose the more competitive option. Now, this may not come as a huge surprise, that men raised in an extreme patriarchy are more competitive than women.

GNEEZY: So the next step was to go to our anthropologist friends and ask them what’s the other extreme? Where can we find a society in which women are in charge?


LECHTENBERG: All of these anthropologist friends pointed to the Khasi in northeast India. The Khasi are one of the world’s few matrilineal societies, where the youngest Khasi daughter inherits the family’s money and property, men move into their wives’ houses when they marry, and children take their mother’s family name. Overall, life for the Khasi women is pretty good.

GNEEZY: In the Khasi Hills where they live, they clearly have a much higher standing than probably anywhere else in the world. The women are in charge. The women decide what kind of crops they’re going to raise. They are in charge of deciding how to spend the money, the family’s money. The household decisions are theirs. They go to the market to sell the items. When you go to visit their home, they will greet you. They are just used to being considered equal to the men.

[MUSIC: Pearl Django; “Eleventh Hour” (fromEleven)]

LECHTENBERG: The Khasi Hills are really rainy. The region holds the world’s record for the most annual rainfall. There is something else unusual about the place that Uri Gneezy noticed when he arrived.

GNEEZY: And as an economist we try to quantify everything and try to say, oh they are nice seven or something like that. I don’t know how to do that, but just the feeling was very nice. So we walked around in the nights in the middle of the rice fields. And people are just nice to each other.

LECHTENBERG: People are so nice to each other, he says…

GNEEZY: At one point I had sixty thousand dollars in cash in my suitcase and I left them with the cook over there in the house that we rented in the village without any worry. You know, the guy could have taken the money—that’s like taking $60 million for me—and disappeared somewhere in India. I didn’t have to worry about that.

LECHTENBERG: And so, in this place where prize money left untended in a suitcase is fine, and the kindness is unmeasurable, the study began.

GNEEZY: Same experiment that we did with the Masai. Everything is the same. I took the buckets the same balls from Tanzania all the way to India.

LECHTENBERG: They started with two opposing hypotheses.

GNEEZY: The first one is that culture is not really important. It’s the same story as my kids. We are born differently and we just react to this. And the alternative hypothesis is that when women are brought up in a culture in which dealing with money, making decisions is part of the daily routine and that’s what they observe as girls, they’re going to be just as competitive as men.

LECHTENBERG: And what did they find?

GNEEZY: And that’s what we found. We found that culture was extremely important.

LECHTENBERG: Before we delve into the results, remember how the game worked: players had two options. They could get paid x amount for every time they made a basket. Or, they could pick the more competitive option and get paid three times that amount if they did better than their anonymous opponent. So how did the Khasi people do? Fifty-four percent of Khasi women picked the more competitive option. Thirty-nine percent of Khasi men made the same choice. Khasi women were more likely to choose to compete than even the super-patriarchal Masai men we heard about earlier.

GNEEZY: So the implications are clear. It’s not that men and women are not born differently. I’m sure they are. And you can come up with good evolutionary stories about why men are more competitive than women. What we showed is that’s not the only factor that goes in, which again is not a big surprise, but the other factor, the culture is so big, can be so big that it can just overturn the results. So if you grow up in a matrilineal society, women are actually more competitive than men. So it can completely override any evolutionary explanation, any nature kind of reason. Nurture could be that big. And I think that’s the main result of this study is that in the right environment, women are going to be just as competitive as men.

LECHTENBERG: In other words, as Uri Gneezy and his co-author John List say, “nurture is king” or in this case “nurture is queen.” So, what’s the solution? How do we begin to re-socialize our girls? Gneezy says, not so fast.

GNEEZY: I’m not convinced, for example that I want my daughters to be more competitive. I’m not sure that it’s actually good. Maybe we should concentrate on making boys less competitive.

[MUSIC: The Jaguars; “Snake Charmer” (fromThe Jaguars)]


DUBNER: Coming up on Freakonomics Radio, we take a look at something puzzling that has happened to women’s happiness. Why?

Betsey STEVENSON: First of all, we call it a paradox because we don’t know the answer.

DUBNER: And later, if you’re rooting for women and men to become totally and completely equal, should you root for women to commit more crimes?

Jennifer SCHWARTZ: If you look at all different types of crime that the police enforce, 75 to 80 percent of those offenders are male.




ANNOUCNER: From WNYC and APM, American Public Media: This is Freakonomics Radio. Here’s your host, Stephen Dubner.

[MUSIC: 3 Leg Torso; “B & G’s” (fromAstor in Paris)]


DUBNER: Today’s program is called “Women Are Not Men.” Now, there are about a million ways to think about that simple sentence, a million ways to argue with it. We’re not trying to start any arguments. We’re just trying to look at the data that show differences between men and women, try to figure out why those differences exist, how meaningful they are. What you need to know for this next story is that there is a lot of research that ties income to happiness. Generally, more money means a higher level of happiness, or well-being. Over the past 30 years, women have made big gains in education and the workforce, which means they’re making more money than ever before. And so, the thinking goes, women should also be happier than ever before. Shouldn’t they? Betsey Stevenson is a former chief economist at the Department of Labor. She now teaches at the University of Michigan. Along with Justin Wolfers, her domestic partner and fellow economist, Stevenson wrote a paper exploring female happiness.

STEVENSON: Women are reporting life satisfaction levels that are lower than they were in 1970. Now, there’s a couple things to note. One is that women told us that they were happier with their lives in the ‘70s than men were, so we had a happiness gap in the ‘70s where women reported greater well-being than men. And what we have now is a new gap where men report greater life satisfaction than women. The magnitudes here aren’t huge, but it’s the fact that the directional shift is the exact opposite of what we would have expected given that it’s women’s lives that have really become more expansive, more options, and a greater ability for them to choose the type of life that would make them best off.


DUBNER: So how do you explain it, Betsey? I mean, women were given a larger choice set, which economists tell us larger choice sets to a degree are really good. Women were given and accomplished in a lot of other areas that we would associate with, you know, benefits of different kinds: financial benefits, psychic benefits, and so on. How do you account for the decline? How do you account for the paradox? What are the mechanisms by which that paradox exists?


STEVENSON: Well you know, first of all, we call it a paradox because we don’t know the answer. What we found was this decline in women’s well-being relative to men was seen not just in the United States, but was seen in Europe, it was seen in every country where we were able to get a long-enough time period to be able to look at several decades of trends in well-being. And it occurred in countries where the gains for women differed substantially. So I know a lot of people would like to say, Oh, this goes to show that, you know, women entering the labor force has been very difficult for them and it’s reduced their well-being. But, you know, our research doesn’t make that case because we saw the declines in well-being relative to men in countries where women had very little change in their labor force participation, and similar changes in countries where women had very large gains in their labor-force participation.


DUBNER: You make the point that women’s happiness declined as they entered the workforce in greater and greater numbers and started to earn more money relative to men, although still less relative to men, and that gains from women yielded greater happiness for men relative to the women. Could it be in some way that men get happier for whatever reasons because there are more women in the workforce?


STEVENSON: Well let me clear, we put that out as a hypothesis, not that there’s evidence that that’s definitely what’s happening. I mean, what we know is the correlation is that over a time period where women have gained more autonomy, more financial power, more market power, more responsibility and power within their families that they have become less happy and men have become slightly happier. And so one possibility is that somehow this sort of revolution in our lives has actually benefited men more than it’s benefited women. And, you know, the comment that Steve Levitt made to us was, of course women have become less happy, they’re living their lives like men, and now they’re just as happy as men, which is not as happy.


[MUSIC: Das Vibenbass; “The Beast” (fromAnimals & Robots)]


DUBNER: All right, so Betsey, no offense, but this is a little depressing. So, do you have any good news, or at least advice about what can be done? What are some things that people can do, that women can do to recapture or get more happiness in the modern world?


STEVENSON: You know, I agree with you, the whole conversation is a little bit depressing. And I think that, you know, trying to be maximizers in everything might not lead to the greatest happiness. And so trying to figure out what it is that’s really important to us and letting other things slide and feeling okay about that, feeling like it’s okay that I’m doing the thing that’s most important to me, or that I’m not giving my all at work because I’m splitting my energy between work and my kids and I’m okay with that. You know I…But I also, you know, I also hesitate to say that there’s definitely a problem here.


DUBNER: What about earning more money though, would that be a good idea? Would the median woman become a bit happier if she were able to earn more money?


STEVENSON: I think that sometimes people get a little bit confused about the data on this, but what we see really strongly in every data set you look at is that richer people are happier than poorer people. And what we see is that over time, when countries get richer, their citizens get happier on average. And so women putting themselves in positions where they have a greater ability to earn income is really important. Now there is this other thing, which I think I should mention, which is that often women are underpaid. And they’re underpaid because they simply don’t ask. They don’t ask for the raise they should get. And there’s really compelling research on this that women tend to not negotiate as hard, tend to be less likely to ask for a raise. And so if you could be earning more doing the exact same job that you’re doing, I think you’d be better off. So you should go out there and ask for that raise.

[MUSIC: Vagabond Opera; “Hanumonsoon” (fromSign For Your Lives)]


DUBNER: That was the economist Betsey Stevenson on the gender gap in earnings, and in happiness. Now there’s one more difference to look into today. An activity that we should be very, very happy that women do much, much less frequently than men.

SCHWARTZ: So where we see the starkest gender differences are for homicide, rape, robbery, those sorts of major felony-typse violence.  

DUBNER: That’s Jennifer Schwartz. She’s a sociologist at Washington State University.

SCHWARTZ: And I study gender and crime. Mainly I’m interested in why females offend. Why they don’t offend. If they’ve changed the types or amount of offending they do.

DUBNER: All right, then how much offending do women do?

SCHWARTZ: If you look at all different types of crime that the police enforce, 75 to 80 percent of those offenders are male.


LEVITT: There are only two crimes in the United States today for which women get arrested more than men.

DUBNER: Steve Levitt is my Freakonomics friend and co-author.

LEVITT: One of those is prostitution. And it turns on the other is being a runaway, that if you’re a juvenile and you run away from home, you can get arrested for that, and it turns out girls get arrested more than boys for running away from home. Other than that, men run the table on women when it comes to crime.

DUBNER: For Jennifer Schwartz, the idea of thinking about women and crime was a natural outgrowth of thinking about the feminist movement.

SCHWARTZ: I think the hook for me was, you know, taking the common sense, or what seemed like common sense, that as women gained more freedoms and as women had more access to opportunities that they would engage in more crime. And that seemed to be what the common sense notion was, but once I started looking at the data it seemed the opposite was true, or at least there was no support for this idea that women’s liberation would increase their offending. And so I think that sort of puzzle made me want to know—Well, why women are offending in the first place and why aren’t they offending any more given that we think women have come so far and have so many opportunities what’s holding them back from offending if they are making gains in other avenues in legitimate work, why aren’t they making gains in the underworld, I guess. So that was the hook for me, trying to figure out that puzzle of why aren’t women offending more given that their status in society has, you know, bettered for the most part.

[MUSIC: The Mackrosoft; “The Immortality Project” (fromAntonio’s Giraffe)]


DUBNER: Now, to be fair, women have started committing some crimes more often. Forgery, embezzlement, even auto theft, a little. But compared to men, their rates are still very low.

SCHWARTZ: I know, I have a little bit of mixed feelings because that, you know, when I think about it I say I’m not rooting for women to become more criminal or have more criminal opportunities. I guess it’s just another form, or another context in which women are blocked from, you know, achieving at high levels. But, you know, it’s a, it’s sort of a difficult thing to unpackage, I guess.

DUBNER: It may be difficult to unpackage but let’s be clear: it’s a good thing that women, having closed a lot of gender gaps over the past few decades, aren’t rushing to close the crime gap. There are other gaps that one might hope will be preserved or, better yet, closed but in the other direction. Men should aspire to get to where women already are. Did you know, for instance, that a man is much less likely than a woman to do you a favor? Men are much worse at washing their hands, which, if you’re thinking about a hospital setting in particular, can be bad news. There’s also research showing that men, if you ask them a question, are thoroughly incapable of simply saying “I don’t know” even if in fact they don’t know the answer. Now, why is that? Let me betray my gender here for a moment and simply say this: I don’t know.





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  1. Dre says:

    Will you be doing more moderation on the podcasts? Definitely enjoyed it.

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  2. Xerxes says:

    Very curious about how much of the participation data about Wikipedia is the result of women not self-identifying as female. I’m quite an active participant on Wikipedia, Reddit, and other largely male environments, and I do not identify my gender by preference. I also tend to use gender neutral IDs. It seems that the Wikipedia article made the assumption that the relevant percentage of men and women who identify their genders is equal. I doubt this is the case.

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    • Jjj says:

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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      • Kate says:

        I think you’re thinking of extroverts vs. introverts, not women vs. men. Introverted woment also enjoy technical, isolated work, it just sometimes varies in preference – art or writing vs. engineering (and this is probably somewhat cultural – introverted women won’t go into coding or engineering because they think they’ll be even more isolated within and already-isolated group of individuals because of bias).

        I’m a woman and a scientist and definitely not naturally a social creature. I guess you could argue I’m the ‘10%’, but I feel like it’s still not a women vs. men thing but rather what we consider to be ‘isolated, technical work’ – certainly even something like knitting or making a quilt could qualify as a difficult, long-term project done mostly on an individual basis.

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    • Enter your name... says:

      Wikipedia is heavily researched, and they’ve done the research on this point. Men and women are equally likely to not identify on the regular site (either through choice of user name or by ticking the gender item in the preferences). This has been consistent through multiple studies conducted both internally and by outside academics.

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  4. Laura Cody says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Laura Cody says:

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      • tartar sauce says:

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      • Laura Cody says:

        There seems to be a misunderstanding here.. I said that life is better for both genders in a Matriarchal society. And I didn’t say any more than that.

        What Tartar sauce is saying is that egalitarian societies don’t make things and we cannot be happy or successful without things.

        So I guess we are all stuck in the gotta progress and make new things, remake nature, built huge cities and office buildings, dig ditches, bombs and armies and create empires, destroy the environment and own women and children. In other words, the pursuit of property.

        So yes, perhaps a Matriarchal society fails by these criteria, but women are much happier and it did not sound like the men were suffering either.

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      • Tom says:

        Laura, you make an interesting point. I’ve read in a book that everything that exists now is equally evolved. It must be because the point of evolution is to survive. So any species still alive, and that should probably include species of culture, is as evolved as any other existing culture.

        It’s a little like the garden of Eden is it not? The matriarchal culture may be happy because it hasn’t eaten the fruit of the internet. What it doesn’t know about it can not want for.

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      • James says:

        “Last I checked the most successful and well built societies have all been patriarchal.”

        And so are the worst and least functional – or at least the least pleasant to live in. Any votes for North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, or other similar patriarchial societies on the list of best places to emigrate to? Didn’t think so…

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      • Mike says:

        Not entirely — in your theoretical model, then happiness should be rising as women become sexually and financially independent. The podcast didn’t really illustrate the full picture –in the last 40 years happiness has been steadily decreasing for both genders. So as women have become more “powerful” (although it could certainly be argued that women, as a group, have always been more powerful and valuable than men *as a group* –one king doesn’t make men as a group powerful, homelessness is a largely male phenomenon) –but the decline in western happiness is almost directly correlated with increasing female independence, so it’s difficult to make that claim.

        One thing is likely in my opinion –increasing female independence (a good thing for sure) has wreaked havoc on family structure and family size. No longer are men needed, therefore women can afford to be incredibly picky when deciding who to stay with. In both the UK and Scandinavia –the highest divorce rates, by far, of any demographic are lesbian marriages. There’s a much more controversial side of the story that the podcast chose to ignore

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      • katrinka says:


        ” No longer are men needed,”

        that depends on if society still has the oversimplified approach that men are only needed for their sperm and their financial support. roles are changing nowadays- men are (and have been) needed for parenting at least as much as women i think… and also physical and emotional and just pure companionship. this line of thought all strips down relationships to money again which isn’t true at all.

        “therefore women can afford to be incredibly picky when deciding who to stay with”

        i’m not disagreeing with you, i really don’t know overall – but it strikes me that men (who have some level of success/independance and/or attractiveness, probably actually in the minority overall, same with the women) have been in this position for a while now…

        i think it also gets more complicated if you add in factors of how attractive women are perceived to other men the more ‘independent’ they get… don’t forget ageing and physical attractiveness also seems to be skewed more to men (although this is changing, although i doubt by huge amounts regardless of how many ‘cougar’ films come out!)

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  5. Jjj says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Brother Warth says:

      I have to say that sounds like a whole lot of chauvinist propaganda. You assume the problems arising from a woman bringing home more than half the income couldn’t be attributed to low self-esteem of men, and instead blame it solely on the idea that women are “designed” to subjugate themselves.

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      • Ranger Danger says:

        50 Shades a grey is a book about a woman who is dominated in every which way by a 26 year old BILLIONAIRE who spends his life fighting world hunger. It literally doesn’t get anymore intricate than that.

        This book has sold more copies than Harry Potter. Why do you suppose that is?

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      • Katrinka says:

        the key word here is your use of the word ‘designed’ – what do you mean by that? that this is a social construct OR built into our genes by our sex by default? OR a complex mixture of both, hormones/genes & cultural conditioning.

        the question to me is what is IMPLICIT versus EXPLICIT – just DESCRIBING something as it exists now/past versus an unchangeable phenomenon.

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      • Ali says:

        it is had less to do with subjugation, it had much more to do with expectation.

        partly genetic, partly social construct.. nurture.. all play a part. but the biggest mistake is, nobody doing anyhing, to change the expectation toward men. no.. not ANY feminist movement..

        what, anyone had do.. in order to lower the expectation of woman? none..

        had woman being teach to provide for men? nope..

        nothing had been done. it does not even being talk about..

        majority of woman i know, still looking for men that can provide, protect, making hard decision and make her proud in front of their friend.

        stop promoting how wonderfull a single mom is.. it does not help woman.. promoting how great, when a woman can provide for men.

        the movie, novel, magazine, and so on.. always portray a poor and weak woman, get marriage to a powerfull and rich men.. and how nice their life is. getting provided for everything.

        why almost nobody, making the other way around? a extremely rich and taller girl, fall in love with a poor and shorter man?

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      • katrinka says:

        *apologies, my reply was directly to Jjj, not to Brother Warth

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      • Kate says:

        “why almost nobody, making the other way around? a extremely rich and taller girl, fall in love with a poor and shorter man?”

        It’s like you’ve never even played Super Mario Brothers!

        Also I’m a chick and I like shorter guys :p

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      • Brit says:

        Kate: “Also I’m a chick and I like shorter guys :p”

        That may be, but I’ve noticed an awful lot of my female friends mentioning whether or not a guy is tall or not. It surprises me how often it comes up. It’s pretty clear that “tallness = attractive” is the general pattern for women. I’ve seen longitudinal studies that also showed that a man’s height had good correlations with whether or not that man is in a relationship or married five or ten years later. It seems kind of stupid that height would make that much difference for a man, but it really seems to make a difference for women.

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    • Laura Cody says:

      The only reason there is a desire to marry upwards is that for thousands of years in so many cultures women were not allowed to accumulate their own wealth. Often they could work, but their paychecks went to their husbands who could go and collect it from the employer.

      The same applied here in the USA for many decades.

      That is what a Patriarchal culture dictates, women and children as property and a woman must be under the care of her nearest male relative. Father first, brother or husband, etc.

      No wonder they would try and marry up…

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      • Jjj says:

        And I’m in no way shape or form passing judgement only stating women have distinctly different mating strategies to men. This behaviour is deeply ingrained. Same goes for men, they are attracted most to women with physical features that signify high fertility.

        It’s your life, no one is stopping women from pursuing careers. Just realize that it may adversely effect your happiness.

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      • Ali says:

        it is a fact anywhere around the world..

        a female looking for a man, that taller than her, richer than her, smarter than her, wiser than her..

        and no body doing anything to change that expectation..!!

        as the heels get higher.. it is harder for her to find someone tall enough..

        as the salary get bigger, it is harder to find someone rich enough. and so on..

        and then, they are also not teached to provide for her husband. if she earn more than her husband, she realize. she cannot use all of those hard earned cash to buy the brand new branded item.. that she could afford otherwise..

        when she is in the law enforcement, and someone break into her home.. she realize, that she is the one that had to protect the family.. and risking her life doing so..

        men are different, we are forge since small boy, to provide for the one we love. so when a men, spend half of his hard earned cash to pay the bill, he did not felt bad. he felt good..

        we had to start teaching a woman differently. if we are going to walk this path, of female empowerment

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      • Tartar Sauce says:

        Isn’t it interesting how Jjj’s initial comment received more negative votes than positive while this reply to his post by Laura Cody is overwhelmingly positive?

        Laura’s post essentially buys into Jjj’s premise but because it pushes the blame for female’s inherent (shallow ) desire to marry upwards upon men it’s liked.

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    • Laura Cody says:

      Evolution says we [women ]should seek out the most successful man and in a hunter / gatherer society it will likely be the best hunter and that would probably also be the healthiest.

      Now in a Industrial Society the most successful will be the owners of manufacturing plants.. health wouldn’t not necessarily play a role so I suspect for support richer is better and for mating healthier is better and if the female isn’t constrained with idea of modern morality, the father of her kids might not be the husband who is financially more successful.

      In a high tech society, the geeks are the most successful, so they will be the most sought after.. and they could be healthy too if your lucky…

      As for Tall it simply indicates health in most cases… So tall, dark and handsome = equals healthy and if lucky monetarily successful. The whole package.

      Now all of the above is in Patriarchal society which generally, as a rule, make women dependent on men for their support.

      In a egalitarian society or a matriarchal society women would probably be able to choose the father of her children on health and even the bad boy … and not worry about a “successful” husband if she had the resources she needed to raise her child with. She may even not need to marry.

      And today, some men have it made… they can have all the off spring they want without having to contribute anything beyond their sperm.. Sperm Donors would be the happiest of men knowing they have spread their DNA and don’t have to support them in anyway.

      So culture plays a huge role in how women choose husbands or a man to father her children.

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    • James says:

      And men don’t have just as much desire to marry upwards as women? They may not have had as much opportunity as women, because few women controlled much wealth, but the desire has been there. Consider Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice”, in which two major sub-plots are the attempts of impoverished men, Bassanio and Lorenzo, to mend their fortunes by marrying wealthy women.

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  6. Seth says:

    I’m curious if/how Jennifer Schwartz’s studies account for disparities in reporting of crime versus commission of crime. There is no argument that the VAST majority of law enforcement officers are male, and I don’t think I’ll shock you by suggesting that those officers are substantially more likely to let a female off with a warning– or charge her for a lesser crime, etc.– than with a male perpetrator. Although there may not be a huge number of examples of this for something like murder, I would think it almost a certainty that this skews most crime statistics in women’s favor.

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    • Enter your name... says:

      I thought that the prosecutor’s office was ultimately in charge of filing the charges, and the lawyers do not suffer from the same type of gender skew as the police force.

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      • James says:

        IANAL, but I think that in most cases, the prosecutor’s office will only be involved once a suspect has been arrested. If investigating officers decide not to make an arrest, for whatever reason, then the only way they’d be involved is by bringing a case before a grand jury.

        Which brings up a related question: how are the researchers deciding who commits crimes, by arrests or by convictions?

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      • Enter your name... says:

        I think you’re right (except that nearly all cases are resolved without a trial, by negotiating with the prosecutors), but Seth is alleging that the male police force not only lets women off with a warning (“Well, just be careful that you don’t murder anyone again, okay?) but also charges women with lesser crimes than they deserve.

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      • James says:

        “…the male police force not only lets women off with a warning…”

        Don’t we have a large number of verified instances where this has happened? Or has been tried, as when the cop offers not to write the traffic ticket in exchange for sex?

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      • katrinka says:

        @james – that may be the case but we’re just guessing here really at the actual numbers/percentages. (wouldn’t it be great if there was a website that all it did was have statistics for everything aggregated all on one site, that could be used to compare/chart/follow graph out…)

        it get’s quite complex when you think about the recent UK problem of finding out cases of police convincing women to not file rape cases (one man continued on to kill his two daughters) to fill their quotas.

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  7. . Rossi says:

    Stephen, Not only was it a great listen full of thought provoking material, you did a masterful job of narration. Thanks I posted it for my Facebook Friends to enjoy as well.

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    • robyn ann goldstein PhD says:

      Alice- see the source -Goldstein,1991 Max Weber’s Contribution to `Knowledge’ of the Origins of Chinese thought.” The Graduate School & Univeristy Center of CUNY.

      The only things that I would change (Besides typos) and writing style is the title. Should have been Understanding the Origins of Chinese Thought.

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    • Robyn Ann Goldstein Ph.D. says:

      Dear Alice, Upon second thought, “a masterful” leaves upon the thought of not the only one. So thanks in advance of another publication. The only thing I would really change of my dissertation (Max Weber’s Contibution to `Knowledge’ of the Origins of Chinese Thought(1991, The Graduate School and University Center of CUNY (outside of typos and improving writing style) is title . It should have been Understanding the Origins of Chinese Thought. Did I know what I was doing at the time. Down deep—- yup. It is not easy to be honest with one’s self.

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  8. James says:

    A few points immediately come to mind.

    1) Like too many people, you don’t seem to appreciate that there is a significant distinction between equal rights and statistical equality.

    2) I think it’d be much more interesting if, instead of (or in additition to) studying how societies foster things like competitiveness or the lack thereof, someone would look at why some people go against the grain of their society.

    3) When it comes to crime, it’s important to remember that we have no data on those who commit crimes, only those who get arrested. Could it be that women are just better at not getting caught?

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    • Joe J says:

      As to number 3 that is definately true, and has reached the self fulfilling prophesy stage.
      For example since it is a commonly held idea that women aren’t serial killers
      most law enforcement will concentrate all efforts on the male suspects only. A female serial killer would be effectively not looked for, because not meeting the description.
      A second idea is that with choices of murder weapons, poison, is generally considered a female choice of murder weapon. But poisoning is an easily hidden way of murdering, since many would not be classified as murders.
      From the CDC: “•In 2009, 31,758 (76 percent) of the 41,592 poisoning deaths in the United States were unintentional, and 3,349 (8 percent) were of undetermined intent.1 Unintentional poisoning death rates have been rising steadily since 1992″

      Since there are twice as many “accidental” poisonings, and 3,000 undetermined, leaves a LOT of wiggle room with how many female murders there actually are.

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      • drycreekboy says:

        Yeah, but how many murders using a wrench, or bare hands were committed by women? I think that’s really the nub of the differential in crime numbers: not that women can’t be murderous or vicious, but biology likely constrains how women are violent in addition to how often.

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    • MrLiveDog says:

      “Females have lower arrest rates than males for virtually all crime categories except prostitution. This is true in all countries for which data are available. It is true for all racial and ethnic groups, and for every historical period. In the United States, women constitute less than 20 percent of arrests for most crime categories.

      “Females have even lower representation than males do in serious crime categories. Since the 1960s in the United States, the extent of female arrests has generally been less than 15 percent for homicide and aggravated assault, and less than 10 percent for the serious property crimes of burglary and robbery.” (http://law.jrank.org/pages/1250/Gender-Crime-Differences-between-male-female-offending-patterns.html)

      Crime, in general, is highly skewed toward male perpetrators. Perhaps women do tend to get more warnings, lighter sentences, and/or escape the law more often than men. However, those circumstances don’t explain the huge difference in crime rates between the genders. In fact, I’d be surprised if they would even lead to a statistically significant difference in the female crime rate.

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