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Gender Equality and Gene-Culture Co-Evolution
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The ratio of index finger length to ring finger length provides an index of sexual differentiation. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The ratio of index finger length to ring finger length provides an index of sexual differentiation. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Are men and women more alike in some populations than in others? It’s possible. First, boys and girls differentiate from each other to varying degrees during adolescence, and this process of sexual differentiation is genetically influenced. There are even conditions, like Swyer syndrome, where an individual is chromosomally male (46, XY) and yet develops externally into a woman.

Second, men and women don’t have the same sex roles everywhere. According to a survey of 93 nonindustrial cultures, men were expected to dominate their wives in 67% of them, the sexes were expected to be about equal in 30%, and women were expected to dominate their husbands in 3% (Whyte, 1978). Sex roles differ to varying degrees even among hunter-gatherers, who correspond to the earliest stage of cultural evolution. In the tropics, women provide more food through gathering than men do through hunting. The reverse is true beyond the tropics, where women have few opportunities to gather food in winter (Kelly, 1995, pp. 128-132; Martin, 1974, pp. 16-18).

There has thus been a potential for gene-culture co-evolution. Wherever men and women behave more alike, natural selection will tend to level any innate behavioral differences between them. This can come about in several ways, but a particularly common one is to reduce the sex difference in prenatal hormonal exposure, i.e., the ratio of testosterone to estrogen in the uterine environment of the developing fetus.

We have a “handy” way to measure this prenatal influence. It’s called the digit ratio: the length of your index finger divided by the length of your ring finger. The lower your 2nd digit to 4th digit ratio (2D:4D), the more you were exposed to testosterone in the womb and the less to estrogen.

English psychologist John T. Manning has pioneered the use of this digit ratio as a way to measure how prenatal male and female hormones influence various behavioral traits. In a recent study, he looked at how prenatal hormones might influence gender equality in different populations. After measuring the digit ratios of participants from 29 countries, his research team averaged the score for each country and compared it with indices of gender equality: women’s share of parliamentary seats; women’s participation in the labor force, women’s education attainment level; maternal mortality rates; and juvenile pregnancy rates. To ensure comparability, all of the participants were of European descent.

The results?

In short, the more similar the two sexes were in 2D:4D, the more equal were the two sexes in parliamentary and labor force participation. The other variables were not as strongly correlated. (Manning et al., 2014)

In general, women from Northwest Europe have more masculine digit ratios, whereas women from farther east and south have more feminine digit ratios. This geographical trend is more pronounced for the right hand than for the left hand. Since the right-hand digit ratio is associated with social dominance, Northwest Europeans may be less sexually differentiated for that particular trait, as opposed to being less sexually differentiated in general.

Presumably, this isn’t a new tendency. Women must have been more socially dominant among Northwest Europeans even before the late 19th century and the earliest movements for women’s suffrage. So how far back does the tendency go? To medieval times? To pre-Christian times? It seems to go back at least to medieval times and, as such, forms part of the Western European Marriage Pattern:

The status of women differed immensely by region. In western Europe, later marriage and higher rates of definitive celibacy (the so-called “European marriage pattern”) helped to constrain patriarchy at its most extreme level.

[...] In eastern Europe however, the tradition of early and universal marriage (usually of a bride aged 12-15 years, with menarche occurring on average at 14) as well as traditional Slavic patrilocal customs led to a greatly inferior status of women at all levels of society. (Women in the Middle Ages, 2014)

Does this geographic tendency go back to pre-Christian times? There is little consensus on this point, as noted in a study of women in Old Norse society:

The conversion of Iceland raises the problem of the impact of Christianity on the female half of the human race. This, in fact, is one of the most controversial issues in women’s history. One point of view argues that Christianity was deeply imbued from the beginning with Jewish and Roman patriarchy, which became intensified by an all-male clergy and resulted in misogyny as the most lasting and profound legacy of Christianity for women. An opposite argument claims that the Christian message was fundamentally a liberating force that included women as well, and although the original radicalism of Jesus on this issue, as on so many others, became diluted with time, women were better off during the Christian period and in Christian countries than they had been before and elsewhere. (Jochen, 1995, p. 2)

Perhaps both arguments are true. As I have argued elsewhere, there may have been a “fruitful encounter” between Christianity and pre-existing behavioral tendencies in Northwest Europe, the result being a significantly different form of Christianity (Frost, 2014).

References

Frost, P. (2014). A fruitful encounter, Evo and Proud, September 26
/pfrost/a-fruitful-encounter/

Jochens, J. (1995). Women in Old Norse Society, Cornell University Press.

Kelly, R.L. (1995). The Foraging Spectrum. Diversity in Hunter-Gatherer Lifeways, Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Manning, J.T., B. Fink, and R. Trivers. (2014). Digit ratio (2D:4D) and gender inequalities across nations, Evolutionary Psychology, 12, 757-768.
http://www.epjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/EP1207570768.pdf

Martin, M.K. (1974). The Foraging Adaptation – Uniformity or Diversity? Addison-Wesley Module in Anthropology 56.

Women of the Middle Ages. (2014). Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_the_Middle_Ages

Whyte, M. K. (1978). The status of women in preindustrial societies, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

(Republished from Evo and Proud by permission of author or representative)
 
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  1. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer

    ratio of index finger length to ring finger length

    Two fingers mentioned, and the picture has only one arrow.

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  2. Bill P says:

    In general, women from Northwest Europe have more masculine digit ratios, whereas women from farther east and south have more feminine digit ratios.

    But wait a moment here. Men of NW European heritage have more masculine digit ratios than Eastern European men as well. If by region you compare men to men and women to women I suspect the difference evens out.

    And East Asian women are morphologically less distinct from men than Europeans. Also, it appears that they are cognitively more masculine than NW European women (check US math test scores by race — white males test significantly closer to Asian males than white females to Asian females).

    Northern European gender equality is a myth supported by the great indulgence shown to Nordic women. Feminine weakness and foibles are tolerated in Scandinavia to a degree that would seem absurd to Asians or Africans. Scandinavian women’s participation at the highest levels is possible because of the extreme deference shown to women in these countries, which would be unthinkable in the rest of the world. I’d argue that this demonstrates higher levels of sexual dimorphism: if women were really treated “equally” then they would be marginalized as they are in most of the world.

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  3. Quercus says:

    I think the “digit ratio”bit is utter bullshit.

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    • Replies: @Anonymous
    And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call "peer review"
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  4. M says:

    I agree re the dubiousness of digit ratios.

    Yes, re differentiation, it depends on if men and women are really acting more alike, or if men or women end up being masculinised or feminised more in some ways than others.

    E.g. males in Eurasia generally are more selected for being providers than in Africa… but they provide in a male style way, though endurance physical strength, focus, mechanical abilities, while selection may be relaxed on other masculine abilities, like explosive fighting ability, charm, confidence, more useful to mating. So changing overall balance of testosterone is less useful than changing what it triggers.

    In the same way, African women probably show an expanded female cognitive provisioning style, and a lower female mating style, but this is not really masculine (although greater demands on physical endurance strength may favor a slight net testosterone increase in African females, while disease may favor greater estrogen).

    Greater relative female social dominance in Eurasian societies may simply be a counterbalance of lower male dominance.

    Humans need a certain degree of assertiveness to function in society, likely more for individualistic economies, cetaris paribus, like stationary pastoralism, rather than collectivist ones like rice cultivation (thus why assertion may be higher in North China than South and the West than the East), which reward vigilance over assertiveness and social dominance. Also in physically dangerous unsecure states.

    But males become disproportionately assertive as a mating strategy – so ethnic groups lower on mating vs provisioning effort may have relatively less assertive males, and so more socially dominant women.

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  5. Kamran says:

    This seems like modern phrenology more than anything. Btw, I never got the impression that nordic women are masculine. Quite the contrary. They are tall though and have rather nice posteriors and hefty breasts. The most masculine women are probably middle eastern and sub-saharan.

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    • Replies: @rod1963
    Got to agree, it's a variant of phrenology, probably by some desperate ph.d types trying to justify their academic positions.
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  6. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer
    @Quercus
    I think the "digit ratio"bit is utter bullshit.

    And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call “peer review”

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    • Replies: @Bill

    And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call “peer review”
     
    Referees tend to use more and bigger words, but, yeah, that's an excellent example of the quality of the typical referee report.
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  7. Bill M says:

    NW European women also seem to have more masculine facial structure such as larger, heavier jaws, than Eastern European women.

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  8. Scudamour says:

    Is it really necessary to follow the radical leftist custom of referring to biological “sex” as “gender”? “Gender” is a word that used to be about grammar. People did not have gender or case or declension. Words in Indo-European languages could be masculine, feminine or neuter. People almost invariably have either xx or xy chromosomes, and are never pure neutral.

    The denial of biological “sex” and the idea that “gender” is a social construct was invented by the infamous (but not infamous enough) John Money. John Money was the quack who cut of the genitals of an infant boy (after a botched circumcision) and instructed the parents to raise him as a girl. The years passed, and the child grew older, and John Money crowed about the success of his theories, publishing paper after paper about how “gender” had nothing to do with biology. Until the child — the boy — grew old enough to insist that he had been a boy all along. The poor kid later committed suicide. Money never apologized.

    This is the type of person who has framed the terms modern discourse.

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  9. rod1963 says:
    @Kamran
    This seems like modern phrenology more than anything. Btw, I never got the impression that nordic women are masculine. Quite the contrary. They are tall though and have rather nice posteriors and hefty breasts. The most masculine women are probably middle eastern and sub-saharan.

    Got to agree, it’s a variant of phrenology, probably by some desperate ph.d types trying to justify their academic positions.

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  10. Art says:

    Some unpleasant politically incorrect facts.

    Not giving Christian Western culture credit for the advancement of women is dishonest. Christianity promotes the kinder gentler more feminine part of humanity. The simple fact is that the cultures where women were more genetically like men have NOT advanced humanity! Asian women and black women are not wall flowers. Western culture has made it possible for women to be feminine – to work on the most important thing in every human’s life – family.

    The cultural arrangement were women are women has made humanity better. Those are the undisputed facts.

    Fact – a culture that has the wherewithal to extend protected childhood will be advance over the culture that does not do so.

    Fact – Western culture is leaving that arrangement – and it is going backwards.

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  11. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer

    Starting at 2 minutes, the following video analyzes the hands and 2D:4D ratio of Michelle Obama. She has a very low 2D:4D ratio. Her ring finger seems to be longer than her index finger.

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  12. Bill says:
    @Anonymous
    And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call "peer review"

    And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call “peer review”

    Referees tend to use more and bigger words, but, yeah, that’s an excellent example of the quality of the typical referee report.

    Read More
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  13. Dutch Boy says:

    Geez, I though that finger ratio stuff was just about musical ability.

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  14. Keith Vaz [AKA "rich"] says:

    I agree that NW Euros are more masculine than E Euros. I’m Irish and don’t find my own race’s women at all attractive. Slavs and Scandis are the best. WEM + EEW is a common combo – lots of my male cousins are married to Slavs.

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  15. Peter Frost says: • Website

    “But wait a moment here. Men of NW European heritage have more masculine digit ratios than Eastern European men as well. If by region you compare men to men and women to women I suspect the difference evens out.”

    Bill,

    No, it doesn’t even out. Read the paper:

    “Some nations, such as Iceland, France, and Denmark, showed lower (more masculinized) female 2D:4D than expected in comparison to men (negative res2D:4D), whereas others, such as Turkey, Croatia, and the Czech Republic, showed higher (more feminized) female 2D:4D than expected in comparison to men (positive res2D:4D; see Table 1).”

    M and others,

    I agree that this relative masculinization of Northwest European women seems to be greater in the area of social dominance. If we look at other mental/behavioral traits, there may not be any relative masculinization at all.

    Art,

    Yes, Western Christianity should be given its due. But Western Christianity itself is, to some degree, a product of pre-existing cultural and perhaps genetic conditions. I’ve argued this point previously. Even if we go back to pre-Christian times, women were not segregated to the same extent in European cultures as they were in some other cultures, notably those of the Middle East.

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  16. It’s interesting the digit difference was found among Brit traders, just after the Meltdown. It was ignored.

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  17. Digit ratio is not a strong indicator of prenatal testosterone. That is well documented by most researchers who study it.

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