Nature versus Nurture

When a woman becomes a mother a wonderful transformation happens in her life. She will soon realize that the cost she has to pay for having and raising children will be higher than for  most men becoming fathers.

For millennia, culture and science have colluded to explain why women aren’t as competitive and ambitious as men. Even Charles Darwin wrote in the ‘Evolution of Species’ that successful males evolved to win the mating race, while women raised and nurtured the young.  Two American Economists and Sociologist, Ury Gneezy and John Smith did a fascinating study on competitive drive by looking at ordinary men and women in their natural habitat doing things people tend to do every day. The question they searched an answer for: ‘Is it Nature or Nurture what determines women’s competitive drive?’

First they looked at the impact of the ‘Nature factor’.  To test whether young boys and girls would have different competitive tendencies they asked ten-year-old kids to run forty meters on a track, one at a time. After that the student who ran at similar speed they raced against each other. There were no incentives and they didn’t even told the kids it was a competition.  The boys reacted stronger to the competitive environment and they ran faster. The girls ran about as fast as they ran when they ran alone.

To look at the impact of Nurture and the cultural influence on competitiveness in men and women they went to visit the most patriarchal and the most matrilineal cultures of the world, the Masai tribe in Tanzania and the Khasi tribe in India.The data showed them that men and women in Kenya Masai tribes were a lot like the men and women from developed nations. What is surprising in this experiment is that for the same experiment, the differences between Masai and US were relatively  small(69% vs 50% of the Masai men and 31% versus 26% for the Masai women).

On the other side in the Khasi tribe they found a reversed sexism.  It is one of the few left matriarchal tribes left in the world, in which inheritance flaws through mothers to their youngest daughter.  When a woman marries, she doesn’t move into her husband home, rather he moves into hers. The mother’s house is the center of the family and the grandmother is the head of the household. Khasi women don’t do any farming, but as the owners of the land, they wield a great authority over men.

In identical throwing experiments as the ones conducted for the Masai tribes, they looked at how competitiveness shows up for the Khasi women and men.  The Khasi women behaved more like the Masai and the US men.  The Khasi experiment, shed some light into the nature versus nurture questions.  Given the right culture, women are as competitively inclined as men, and even more so in some situations. Competitiveness is not only set by evolutionary forces, as Charles Darwin suggested.

The average woman would compete more than the average man if the right cultural incentives are in place.