Women Are Not Men (Ep. 116)

Listen now:

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 here; 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?


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


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.


I would guess its because women are social creatures and do not get the same type of satisfaction men do from isolated, technical work.

It would explain why 90% of women are nurses and 90% of men are engineers.

Jenni Ho-Huan

Fun presentation intro! But really we need to b careful not to pit the genders coz we so need collaboration today!

Laura Cody

Regarding the section on competition in the two tribes, the Patriarchal Masai and the the

Matriarchal Khasi tribes is that it show that life is better for both genders when Women Rule!


Women are designed to seek out men who they deem above them in status. So by elevating the status of women you are shrinking the number of partners they consider suitable. As a result, this has created a lot of lonely and unhappy women. They either drop out of the dating market because they cannot get commitment from the men they desire or they settle for someone who isn't really above them in status (hence why they initiate 70% of divorce proceedings). It shows in statistics that when a woman contributes 50% or more to household income the marriage is very shaky. When there is a huge disparity in contribution to household income in the men's favour both sexes are happier and the marriages have lower divorce rates.

The Wall Street journal did a piece on female desire to marry upwards, you can check it out here.



Brother Warth

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.

Ranger Danger

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?


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.

. Rossi

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.

robyn ann goldstein PhD

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.


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?


What surprised me was the line regarding competitiveness and trying to dull that within men.

Isn't competitiveness responsible for most inventions and innovations in society? Why on earth would you want to dull that drive in men?


I doubt that competitiveness is at the root of many inventions. Inquisitiveness is. I doubt that scientists & engineers, as a group, would rank all that high on the competitiveness scale. Certainly those I've associated with over the years don't.

sociologist at large

Concerning hard lessons of life---I always have been interested in this question of nature vs. nurture as far as what makes us tick (so to speak) i.e., into who we are. I will say this, I have been fortunate in life to have been given gifts from parents and grandparents on both sides that they passed on. The one that has been hard to reconcile is that of my father's gift to me. It was of no doubt that he loved me, he just wanted me to figure it out for myself. The other one of my mother's gift was that she not only loved me, but respected what I was aiming to accomplish. She told me so in her own way. I just had to figure it out i.e., what she forgot.