Temperament, Testosterone and 21st Century Culture: More on “What’s going on here?”

Part I:  Men/women and more odd findings

Last December I blogged about three odd research findings, mostly related to men:  Shrinking penis size, shrinking sperm counts, and increasing head/brain/skull size.  There is nothing new to tie the growing head size to the shrinking genital size/count;  it is a dead end there for the moment.  However, I went back and reviewed Hanna Rosin’s book on The End of Men and  the Rise of Women* and gave some thought to what she found so ominous in the recent behavior of boys and men.  In an article published prior to the book** she noted that a long time sperm expert was finding that couples were more frequently asking for girls than for boys and quoted him as saying “Women live longer than men.  They do better in this economy.  More of them graduate from college.  They go into space and do everything men do, and sometimes they do it a whole lot better.  I mean, hell, get out of the way–these females are going to leave us males in the dust.”

Rosin’s book seems to agree with this assessment and go beyond it.  She says, for example, that preference for sons is not only changing in the United States, but is completely disappearing in South Korea, and rapidly falling in such surprising places as China and India.  She notes that “Earlier this year, for the first time in American history, the balance of the workforce tipped toward women [in the US], who now hold a majority of the nation’s jobs…..Women dominate in today’s colleges and professional schools–for every two men who will receive a B.A. this year, three women will do the same.”  Later, she comments that “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women now hold 51.4 percent of managerial and professional jobs–up from 26.1 percent in 1980.  They make up 54 percent of all accountants and held about half of all banking and insurance jobs and hold about half of all banking and insurance jobs.  About a third of America’s physicians are now women, as are 45% of associates in all law firms.

Moving to career preparation, Rosin says that “Women now earn 60% of master’s degrees, about half of all law and medical degrees and 42 percent of  all M.B.A.s  Most important, women earn almost 60% of all bachelor’s degrees…”  Less details are given for K-12 performance in Rosin’s book, though she is clear that schools have become ever less suited to the natural strengths of boys, and more suited to those of girls.  Verbal skills and verbal fluency, for example are a female strength, and have been emphasized more and more as society requires these skills in diverse jobs, from the lowest levels of management to police work.  She quotes lWhy Boys Fail by Richard Whitmire as saying that “The world has gotten more verbal; boys haven’t”. In a New York Times op-ed piece***, Nicholas Kristof notes that as of 2010, boys have fallen behind in reading in every single state in each level of school (elementary, middle, and high school). He also notes that the grade point average for high school boys is 2.86, and for girls is 3.09.  This appears to be a meaningful difference, as boys are almost twice as likely to repeat a grade, and approximately “one quarter” more boys drop out than girls.

In all of their statistics both Rosin and Kristof are careful to be very clear that at the very top it remains all boys and men.  That is, nearly all of the CEOs of major companies remain men (Rosin), and at the very top of scores for math performance, particularly, it remains male (Kristof).  Statistics are tricky things, especially in the hands of anyone trying to make a point.  Nevertheless, the overall picture seems to be that of average men and boys slip-sliding downhill in the areas of education and career–and perhaps in estimates of their future worth, if the preference for sons is really disappearing..

One more area that is less definitive, but worth thinking about, is that of a shift in film and television “heroes”.  Last year, 2012, saw a remarkable increase in the number of films with proactive an successful women as central heroes.  Most obvious are The Hunger Games, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Prometheus, which all brought in over  $300 million apiece.  Not only are producers willing to take a risk on them, viewers are clearly responding with money and enthusiasm.  According to one college reviewer****,  the final installment in The Twilight Saga series outdid the latest James Bond film in US box office receipts.  Other films with the same theme of a strong, action-oriented female protagonist include Disney’s “Brave” and the wonderful character of “Hushpuppy” in Beasts of the Southern Wild.   This  fantasy drama has just been nominated for best picture, and for best actress–the wonderful nine year old Quvenzhane’  Wallis who is the unquestioned heroine.

From a very different source, comes another confirming report.  Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee has blogged that Women Dominate  Bollywood.  He offers a long list of films produced in India, in support of this and concludes that “…all show that we have entered a new age of women-centric films”.****

Lastly, a serious survey by National Public Radio found that in 2012 reader-voters compiled a list of the leading authors of YA (young adult or teenage) fiction, and found that 63% of the top 100 were written by women, with the top three all having female authors, including The Hunger Games and the revered  Harry Potter series.******

None of this implies that there have never been female heroines before.  We can recall Cagney and Lacey as very successful TV cop show, and find that it has its own prototype today in Risoli and Isles.  Sigourney Weaver commanded Aliens long before Prometheus came along, with a world of strength and vigor.  If we include women as villains, rather than heroes, it would be a long list indeed.  Nevertheless, the female hero movie, in this sudden quantity, may be an altogether new phenomenon, worth adding to the list of unusual findings for 2012.  If there is any truth to the finding that families are moving toward a preference for girls, this sudden liking for female champions might reflect the same social change.

Does it?  If so, it adds to the question “What’s going on here?”  Are women taking over?  Or men backing off?  Or are general cultural values changing? If so, is this a good thing?  A bad thing?  A theme throughout Rosin’s End of Men is that our culture is changing in many important ways, and women are adapting successfully to this and men are not.  This is a parallel to the earlier quote that “The world is becoming more verbal;  men are not”

Coming up: Part II–Is there really a change in men?  If so, why?

In keeping with the start of this series, I want to explore the possibility that it is men who are backing off in some fundamental way, and assess some possible socio-cultural and/or biological causes.  Testosterone may have a unique role in this, both because it is related to male genital development and function, and because testosterone levels vary with events and expectations.  I recall one study that found that testosterone levels even rose in men who were lacing up their shoes in preparation for a race!


*Rosin, Hanna (2012).  The End of Men and the Rise of Women.  New York:  Riverhead Books.

**Rosin, Hanna (2110)  The End of Men  Online at www.theatlantic.com/magazine/print/2010/07/the-end-of-men/

***Kristof, Nicholas (2010) The Boys Have Fallen Behind.  Online at www.nytimes.com/2010/03/28/opinion/28kristof.html?_r=0&p

****Christine Ebalo (2012)  Females dominate lead roles.  Online at http//www.statehornet.om/entertainment/females-dominate-lead-roles

*****Bhattacharjee, Ratan (2013)  Women Dominate Bollywood.  Online at www.boloji.com/index.cfm?md=Content&sd=Articles

******Lewit, Meghan (2012).  Why Do Female Authors Dominate Young-Adult Fiction.  Online at www.theatlanti.com/entertainment/archive/2012/08/why-do-female-autors-dominate-young-adult-fiction


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2 Responses to Temperament, Testosterone and 21st Century Culture: More on “What’s going on here?”

  1. Lorenzo says:

    Your website has to be the elintrocec Swiss army knife for this topic.

  2. Lars says:

    Very interesting. I think its culture that changes. Thats neither good nor bad, its simply a shift.
    The world has changed vastly for women, very much more than for men. Think about the role women had in society only 100 years ago (not beeing able to vote in most countries, not beeing able to get education, etc.), compared to now. Compare that with the role of men, and how much has changed for them. There are of course also many things that have changed for men, but not so huge ones than for women.

    Women do better on average in education than men, still the top positions are mostly men. This is really puzzling. Especially when considering that men are also dominant on many things on the other end of the scale, especially on crime and addiction. Does this mean, men tend more to the extremes, to be either on top of things or to be slackers? Perhaps both things are not related and originate from different reasons.

    I don’t recall if you have already written about it somewhere, but one cross-cultural study found, that “Gender differences in personality tend to be larger in gender-egalitarian societies than in gender-inegalitarian societies”. Meaning that women distinguish themselves more from man, if they have the opportunity to do so. That means, egalitarianism encourages differences. Fascinating.
    (Universal features of personality traits from the observer’s perspective: data from 50 cultures.; McCrae RR, Terracciano A; Personality Profiles of Cultures Project.; 2005)

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