‘Sexplanation’ of why men succeed more than women debunked by scientists

CANBERRA, Australia — Researchers from the Australian National University are putting to bed the supposedly scientific myth that males are naturally more inclined toward uniqueness, innovation, and success than their female counterparts.

For over a century, scientists have argued that male animals in nature tend to be more varied, unpredictable, and unique than females. These supposed gender tendencies across species have long been an explanation for why there are more high-achieving men than women. Now, this new report finds there’s no real evidence to support such beliefs.

“The idea that biology determines greater diversity of behavior among male than female animals is often used to explain why more men than women are considered geniuses or go on to become CEOs,” says lead study author Lauren Harrison, a PhD scholar from the ANU Research School of Biology, in a university release. “There is a history of scientists using the notion of greater male variability to explain why science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are dominated by men, rather than considering other reasons why we see fewer women in these professions, such as historical exclusion or gender stereotyping.”

“Based on our data, if we assume that humans are like other animals, there is equal chance of having a similar number of high-achieving women as there are high-achieving men in this world,” she continues. “Based on this logic, there is also just as great a chance of having a similar number of men and women that are low achievers.”

It’s a societal issue, not a biological one

Researchers reviewed over 10,000 biological studies and analyzed male and female behavioral traits across 200-plus species during this project. They accounted for every type of animal, from insects to dolphins. Contrary to these long-accepted myths, the research team ultimately found little differences in “variability” across males and females of various species.

“The significance of greater male variability for evolution goes back to Charles Darwin. He suggested that male species often look or behave far more differently from each other compared to females of the same species,” Harrison explains. “He also suggested this greater male variability is due to sex-specific selection.”

Researchers cite IQ tests and scores as one way to analyze variability across genders.

“If males are more variable than females, it would mean there are more men than women with either very low or very high IQs,” study co-author Professor Michael Jennions notes. “But our research in over 200 animal species shows variation in male and female behavior is very similar. Therefore, there is no reason to invoke this argument based on biology to explain why more men than women are Nobel laureates, for example, which we associate with high IQ.”

In summation, the discrepancy between high-achieving men and women in today’s world is far more likely a societal issue than a biological one.

“Instead of using biology to explain why there are more male CEOs or professors, we have to ask what role culture and upbringing play in pushing men and women down different pathways,” Harrison concludes. “This includes the many ways that women are discouraged from a career in male-dominated professions, especially STEM fields.”

The study is published in the journal Biological Reviews.