Who’s more “sociable,” men or women? Common sense says it’s women, right? And many research studies back this impression up: Women are more interpersonal, more connected, more interdependent than men. Women are more likely to share intimate information with each other than men. But is that really the whole story?
There is also research suggesting that men have larger social networks than women do, and that male-male friendships last longer than female-female ones.
A team led by Joyce Benenson conducted a set of three studies that may shed some light on the question. In their first study, they identified 30 male and 30 female undergraduates at a small, Northeastern U.S. college. Half of each group was specifically recruited because they said they had some kind of conflict with their roommate. The other half said they were planning on living with their roommate for the rest of the school year. Each student was asked to rate their satisfaction with their roommate on a scale of 1 to 5. A score of 4 or 5 was defined by the researchers as “satisfied.” So were there gender differences? Here are the results:
The male students were significantly more likely to be satisfied with their roommates than female students, whether or not they had a conflict with their roommate. The students also rated their roommates on social interaction, interests, values, and hygiene, and male students gave significantly higher ratings for their roommates than females for every category except hygiene.
In a second study, the researchers surveyed three separate institutions to see how frequently male and female students requested to change roommates. Here are those results:
Whether the students were at a small, medium, or large college or university, females asked for significantly more roommate changes than males.
Finally, they did an experiment. 111 French Canadian postgraduate students read a hypothetical story about two friends who were the same sex, “Jeanne” and “Danielle.” Several examples of Danielle’s reliability as a friend were given. Then the students rated Danielle’s reliability as a friend on a scale of 0 to 100 percent. Then there was a twist to the story: Jeanne had asked Danielle to turn in a paper for her, and another friend had informed Jeanne that Danielle had failed to do it. After hearing this twist, the students rated Danielle’s reliability once again. Here are the results:
After the twist in the story, both men and women rated Danielle’s reliability lower, but women’s ratings decreased significantly more than men’s ratings.
The researchers say these three studies show that men are more tolerant of their friends’ failings than women. Does this mean that men are more “sociable”? That’s less certain. After all, it could be that women value the friendships more, and so are harsher judges when they perceive a betrayal. Regardless of your interpretation of these results, however, it seems that the stereotype of “men harsh, women friendly” is not always valid. In many cases, it can be said that women are less tolerant than men.
Benenson, J., Markovits, H., Fitzgerald, C., Geoffroy, D., Flemming, J., Kahlenberg, S., & Wrangham, R. (2009). Males’ Greater Tolerance of Same-Sex Peers Psychological Science, 20 (2), 184-190 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02269.x