Human gender differences

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Women and men with different body proportions and sexual organs. Here for better visibility without the pubic hair and armpit hair common in adults , as well as in men without beard hair and chest hair .

As human sex differences of all the differences in the are anatomy , the psyche and social behavior between people referred to their affiliation with the male or female sex are returned.


A distinction is made between primary , secondary and tertiary gender characteristics . Primary sexual characteristics are the penis , testicles , epididymis and seminal ducts in men , and the ovaries , fallopian tubes , uterus and vagina in women . These characteristics are already developed at birth. The secondary sexual characteristics are formed during puberty through the action of hormones. These include the growth of armpit and pubic hair, beard growth in men , breast growth and the increase in adipose tissue in women . Tertiary gender characteristics include the respective body type , e.g. B. Body size and pelvic shape, as well as gender-specific behavior and feelings (psyche). The distinction between secondary and tertiary gender characteristics is not always clear.

More recent scientific findings emphasize that the strict division into two biological sexes is out of date and a softening of the boundaries is therefore appropriate. The various possible combinations of chromosomes , gonads , primary, secondary and tertiary gender characteristics open up a wide spectrum of sexuality.

Genetic basis

Karyotype of a woman

From a molecular biological point of view, women and men differ in the formation of sex chromosomes . While women have a pair of chromosomes made up of two X chromosomes (XX), men have a pair made up of one X chromosome and one Y chromosome with the respective genes. The sex determining region of Y (SRY), which in men is responsible for the embryonic production of the testis-determining factor (TDF for English: testis-determining factor ), a protein , and via this already during the early embryonic development for the development of primary male gender characteristics is responsible. This difference leads to a gender dimorphism .

In the absence of the TDF, on the other hand, female sexual characteristics develop. Due to various genetic causes, an embryo can, in exceptional cases, develop into a female baby despite a 46, XY chromosome set (see also: XY woman ).


Reproductive capacity

The ovaries produce around one egg per month , which together with a sperm can develop into an embryo. The testes produce billions of sperm per month , each of which can develop into an embryo together with an egg cell. This means that a man can have far more children in his lifetime than a woman can have. On average, women and men have the same number of children, since every child always has a mother and a father. However, the variance is much higher in men. Men tend to be limited by the number of copulations and women by their fertility.

Mulai Ismail is said to have fathered over 850 children. According to contemporary sources, the woman with the most children was the Russian peasant woman Valentina Wassiljewa (18th century). 69 children resulted from 27 pregnancies.

Women's fertility decreases from around the age of 30 and ends with menopause . Men are fertile longer. The eldest mother, María del Carmen Bousada , was 67 at the time of the birth, the eldest father 93 years old.


Statistically speaking, the human brain is clearly sexually dimorphic . The male brain is on average 11% heavier and this difference remains significant if the body size is kept constant. The size of individual brain areas in relation to the total size also differs. For example, the frontal lobes are larger in women, and the amygdala and hypothalamus are larger in men.

There are also gender differences in areas of the brain that are responsible for cognitive functions. On average, women have a relatively larger language center, and research suggests that these anatomical features correlate with higher language skills in women.

The most significant sexual dimorphism of the human brain appears to be the lateralization of the brain . In men, the two hemispheres tend to be more asymmetrically organized in terms of language and spatial perception than in women, which could cause some differences in cognitive functions. Damage to a hemisphere sometimes has less of an effect on women than on men.

The different brain development begins very early in life, for which both sex hormones and genetic signals are probably responsible.

With regard to the size differences of certain brain areas, however, it should be noted that the intra-sex variances can exceed the gender-specific ones.

Physical ability

It is not possible to establish a uniform measure for the physical performance of humans. Instead, the performance is determined individually for each discipline. In competitive sports, men achieve an average of 10 to 20% more performance in the individual disciplines. This effect is stronger, the more it depends on strength . Women's higher fat metabolism is beneficial in ultra-endurance disciplines.

On average, women have around two thirds of the physical capacity of men and on average 55% of the muscle strength of men. The top 20% of women have the same physical capabilities as the worst 20% of the average male population.

In Germany, employers have to take these gender-specific differences into account as part of the risk assessment based on the Load Handling Ordinance using suitable measuring tools, such as the key indicator method . Internationally, the differences are standardized by ISO 11228 (ergonomics - manual handling of loads) for lifting, holding, carrying, pulling and pushing loads. The European standard is EN 1005 (safety of machines - human physical performance).

More dimorphisms

Women in all human populations studied to date have, on average, a lighter skin color than men. In women (not in men) the brightness correlates positively with the prenatal estrogen level.

According to a study carried out in Iceland and the Netherlands, the color of green eyes is more than twice as common in women as in men, and freckles are also significantly more common.

Women have smaller feet than men relative to their body.


Nature offers a wide range of gender characteristics. For example, there are women with elevated testosterone levels and people with androgen resistance who have a female appearance with an XY karyotype . These and other intermediate forms between men and women are summarized under the term intersexuality . This circumstance makes it difficult to find a definition for "woman" that is generally valid for competitive sport.

Biologically influenced behavior and personality differences

The gender differences in humans go far beyond anatomical features and can be found in many aspects of cognition , behavior and disorders of the same . Women also usually live longer than men. The historical perspective of the man as hunter-gatherer , competing with other men for food, resources and women and with little investment in the upbringing of children, is consistent with the development of specifically masculine characteristics such as aggression, competition and spatial conception. For women, child-rearing and the ability to survive in a cooperative community were likely to be the focus, which promoted the development of communication and social skills.

These evolutionary biological explanations are controversially discussed in the current scientific discourse.

These differences are also reflected in gender differences in partner choice and sexual mentalities. Men are generally observed to be more superficial, attracted primarily to beauty and youth , and sexually opportunistic, while women are attracted to wealth and status . The evolutionary interest of men in achieving a maximum reproductive rate with fertile women and that of women in choosing partners with good resources and the best genes for successful offspring help to explain these different priorities. In a much-cited study (1989) over 10,000 individuals from 33 countries on six continents and five islands were examined with regard to gender-specific differences in the preference for characteristics among potential partners. The study focused on the characteristics of earning potential, ambition / hard work , youthfulness, physical attractiveness and chastity . Women value the signaled employment potential with potential partners more than men. Signals of fertility in potential partners were valued more highly by men than women. These differences suggest gender-specific evolutionary strategies.

The different selection pressure led to gender-specific developments in the sex chromosomes , which influence behavior directly (via genes) and indirectly (via hormones).

Sex hormones

According to the traditional view, hormones are the only biological causes of behavior and cognitive differences between men and women. Much of the early studies were done in mice. Testosterone influences gender-specific brain development as well as behavior and functions. The main mechanism of developmental differences appears to be programmed cell death . Androgens also hinder the development of typical female behavior. For example, androgen-deficient male mice mount female mice less often and are more receptive to mount by other males. There is no simple connection between the amount of hormones and behavioral characteristics; timing of hormone release, sensitivity to hormones and modifying environmental factors can explain behavioral variations. Sex hormones also affect aggression and cognition. For example, mice and primates behave more aggressively when exposed to higher androgen levels. Female rats learn spatial tasks more quickly than castrated males when exposed to androgens during their development.

If human, female embryos were exposed to increased exposure to male hormones during pregnancy (e.g. due to the ingestion of diethylstilbestrol by the mother or due to the adrenogenital syndrome (CAH)), they later tend to be more aggressive as humans, and typically to improve spatial thinking male gambling behavior and sexual preferences. The causal contribution of upbringing to the extent of this behavior in CAH girls is controversial, since the upbringing behavior could change in response to the seemingly male genitals.

Girls of separated-sex twin pairs were exposed to higher doses of androgens as embryos in the uterus and in some studies showed above-average typical male behavior such as improved spatial perception and sensationalism. Other studies have failed to replicate these effects.

The hormonal changes during puberty cause gender-specific differences in the frequency of mood disorders, which affect girls twice as often as boys.

Sex chromosomes

The numerous references to the important role hormones play in sex differences do not mean that there are no other biological causes of sex differences. Some sexual differentiations cannot be traced back to hormones, but to genetic differences.

The X chromosome contains a gene for social cognition . Girls with X0 Turner syndrome who received the X chromosome from their father had significantly higher results on tests than girls with the disease where the X chromosome was from the mother. Normal boys have poorer social cognition than normal girls. This suggests the existence of a gene that increases social cognitive abilities but is not expressed in boys.

Cognitive abilities

The differences between the tested individuals within one sex are almost always greater than the (mean) differences between the sexes. There are no recognized and unambiguous facts about the causes of some of the differences between the sexes that have been identified. In addition to anatomical and hormonal causes, social aspects are also discussed.

In a systematic review from the University of Wisconsin in 2013, many meta-analyzes were compared. It was concluded that males performed better in the area of ​​spatial intelligence (on average), but slightly weaker in language performance. The learning effect through different hobbies (e.g. sport vs. reading) and different role models were considered as causes . For example, in recent studies in the United States, hardly any differences in mathematical performance were measured. Furthermore, in some areas of cognitive performance (including mathematical , spatial , linguistic performance) a greater variability was found in men than in women. This means that within the comparison groups, a larger proportion of males scored stronger and weaker than females. Overall, however, the differences in variability are very small and no statement was made about their causes.


Antisocial behavior is more common in men than women. The prevalence of antisocial personality disorder in the general population is around 3% for men and around 1% for women. Boys are more prone to externalizing disorders and symptoms such as aggressive and delinquent behavior, while girls are more likely to suffer from internalizing problems and depressive anxiety symptoms. In each age group, more men than women are diagnosed with behavioral disorders. In addition, males of all age groups are physically and verbally more aggressive than females and commit more crimes . In Germany, for example, according to police crime statistics in 2011, 86.9% of suspects in the crime group “murder and manslaughter” were male, in the category “robbery offenses” the figure was 90.4%.

Lifelong persistent antisocial behavior, such as aggressiveness, is approximately 10 to 14 times more common in men than women. As an explanation, some researchers have suggested the different concentrations of testosterone in women and men.

Research shows a higher heritability of aggression for men than for women, although it is difficult to determine a definitive value for heritability. The first evidence of a link between specific gene loci ( MAO genes ) and aggressiveness was found in animal experiments. The MAOA genes were later associated with antisocial behavior in boys: boys who expressed little MAO-A and were also abused later tended to be significantly more likely to antisocial and violent behavior than boys with higher MAOA expression (regardless of whether the latter were mistreated or not).

Personality traits and interests

An analysis of two meta-analyzes and three intercultural studies showed that the personality differences between men and women along the Big Five are small to medium. The greatest differences are in terms of tolerance and neuroticism , both of which are on average more pronounced in women than in men. Women are also more interested in people and less in things than men.

The personality differences tend to be greater in gender-equal societies than in less gender-equal societies, which can be interpreted as a contradiction to role theory and as agreement with evolutionary theories and the theory of social comparison . The differences of interest are consistent over time and different cultures, which indicates biological influences. The evolutionary approach seems to contradict the fact that the expression variances in different cultures are different.

Cultural explanations

One theory assumes that behavior and personality differences do not result from biological sex, but from the social conditions, structures and norms to which men and women adapt. According to the theory, the sexes are social constructs, some differences such as anatomical differences (body size) and female childbearing ability are not caused by culture, but biologically. The increased incidence of aggression in men is seen in this approach as a consequence of role expectations. The average of men has culturally determined roles with greater power and status than the average of women. This has led to aggressive, dominant behavior as an expression of power being viewed as typically male. Internalizing these role expectations would make men more likely than women to experience aggression.




Men commit significantly more crimes than women. There is no known society in which the proportion of female crime is higher than that of male crime. In 2006, approximately 4.3% of the world's prison inmates were female. 74.3% of the suspects identified in Germany in 2014 were male. Especially in the case of serious crimes, organized and gang crime, the proportion of men is even higher. While around 20% of the suspects identified in Austria are female, the proportion of people serving a life sentence is only 4%.


The gender distribution of the victims of crimes varies greatly depending on the offense, but men in Germany have a higher risk (59.0%) of falling victim to a crime than women (41.0%).

The following table provides information on the men and women who have been victims .

crime country Men Women Data
Homicides Worldwide 78.7% 21.3% United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
Murder and manslaughter Germany 52.7% 47.3% 2011 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
Murder and manslaughter Austria 59.8% 40.2% 2010 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
Offenses against sexual self-determination Germany 7.0% 93.0% 2014 Police crime statistics
Homicides in the gang milieu United States 94.6% 5.4% US Department of Justice
Homicides in the drug environment United States 90.5% 9.5% US Department of Justice
Homicides Honduras 93.2% 6.8% 2010 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
Homicides Japan 47.1% 52.9% 2012 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime


Globally, men have a higher literacy rate than women. In some areas, girls are banned from going to school, for example the radical Islamic Taliban are violently fighting against schooling for the female population. Worldwide, there are 88 women for every 100 men who can read and write. In some countries this difference is even greater; in Bangladesh, for example, there are only 62 women for 100 men. In developed countries, girls are often better at reading and writing than boys, but they are somewhat better at math . The cause of these differences in performance can also be explained by the so-called stereotype threat , which states that girls are impaired in their performance out of fear of fulfilling the stereotype ("girls are worse at math").

In some countries there are now more female graduates than men. In Germany in 2014 50.1% of new students and 50.5% of graduates were women.

Leadership role

In most levels of society , men dominate in management positions, whether in politics , business or other hierarchies.

18 out of 193 (9.3%) states had a female head of state and / or a female head of government in office in September 2015 . In January 2017, 2.0% of all people lived in countries with female heads of state and 6.6% in countries with female heads of state or / and female heads of government.

9.2% (2014) of German and 5.9% (2015) of Austrian mayors are female. In a study by the market research company GfK, 41% of those questioned said they would rather have a man as a boss, 49% were indifferent to the gender of their line manager.

country Stock index Number of listed companies Companies with at least one woman on the board Companies with at least two women on the board Companies with a female CEO
Germany DAX, MDAX, SDAX, TecDAX 160 21% 3% 0.63%
Austria Vienna Stock Exchange Index 69 13% 0% 2.9%


Women earn less than men on average. According to a 2014 publication by the European Commission's Directorate-General for Justice, women in EU countries earn on average 16% less than men per hour worked. The unadjusted gender-specific earnings gap (GPG) is differently pronounced in the individual countries . Germany and Austria are among the countries in which the GPG is highest.

The world's dollar billionaires in 2014 included 1,645 men and 172 women, most of whom inherited their fortunes: in 2010, 14 of 89 women (~ 15.8%) had generated their own wealth , while 665 of 922 men were self-made. Billionaires were (~ 72%).


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