Women Are Not Men (Ep. 116)

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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?


on women & happiness:

the idea of what happiness is - all based on 'money' earning. is 'material' security more important than 'emotional' or some other type of non-material accumulation?

i also think it's possibly based on the environment that the work force is still. i don't know if anyone would give up financial security or autonomy. but they may feel uncomfortable in the 'environment' if it's based/built on a patriarchal model and hasn't really changed that much.

i'm not sure what the answer is just wondering...

Enter your name...

That's a good point: How well does women's happiness track with the divorce rate or their sense of being secure in their marriages? "Filing for divorce" isn't the same as initiating the divorce. A woman might file for divorce because it's the only way to get the kids' father to pay child support, to divide up joint assets equitably, or even to evict his live-in girlfriend from the wife's house.


Not a very in-depth article. It glosses over much and doesn't give very insightful conclusions. How difficult would it have been to compare happier women to less happy women, in order to determine what factors are involved in the happiness index and to what degree? Did they just not want to know this because it may have conflicted with preconceptions? I just heard a report on NPR stating that couples who play more traditional roles in a marriage tend to have more sex. Now, I don't know if this means that these people are happier...although, it is a conclusion that one could easily assume. But, at least, delving into this and other factors would've been more interesting and informative than 'Gee wiz, this outcome is confusing because it doesn't conform to our preconceived notions.' In fact, what the article leave us with is the dodgy conclusion that since wealthier people tend to be happier, women should ask for a raise. Even though it was just shown that greater wealth and opportunity didn't make women, as a whole, happier. The whole article seems to be constrained by the unspoken assumption that if something benefits women (especially financially) then it must be good, while if it benefits men then it is either bad or irrelevant.



It's always fascinating when the slant of equality and crime is wondering about if women should commit more crimes, rather than reducing the amount of crime among men to the same level of women. I would welcome that equality.


I specifically know of a Wikipedia edit that is needed. I have tried to edit it, but I don't understand the instruction on Wikipedia. I'm sure I could figure it out, but I don't see the value in investing the time to learn. So how about this as a solution to increasing the number of women who edit Wikipedia: Add an _Editing Wikipedia for Dummies_ video on the "How to Edit Wikipedia" page.


Hi Freakonomics, do you have any thoughts on LGBT ( Lesbians, Gays, Bisex and Transgenders?


Before Gneezy indulges his curiosity about lowering the competitiveness of males, I would be curious if as an economist, he would speculate on how a less-competitive culture, male or female, would compete in invention, technology, self-defense, or improving the quality-of-life of its adherents--willing or not.

Jeremy Hagan

Nice podcast. I had a thought about the women vs. man paradox and wondered whether Betsy had considered the following. I know that correlation != causality, but what was brought to mind when Betsy said that the same trends of happiness had been observed in countries where the wage and employment gap hadn't been addressed was gapminder's Hans Rosling and his video showing an almost universal drop in the number of children per woman over the last hundred plus years. Perhaps women are less happy with fewer children and men are more happy with fewer children.