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Personality and Gender Socialization

Updated: Nov 8, 2020

Most of us love clicking through personality tests online whether they are inaccurate and silly like Buzzfeed quizzes or sort us into personality types that seem to be creepily accurate like the Myers-Briggs. However, if you haven’t taken the Big 5 personality test you really should. According the field of psychology dedicated to personality research, the big 5 personality test is the most reliable and flexible in terms of what are called essentialist traits, that is, traits that every single one of has at least some of.

Here’s a break down of the 5 traits on the big 5!

According to these measures and if you take the quiz you’ll be rated from 0-100 on all 5 traits, the personality test does include 60 scale questions, like how much you disagree with or agree with statements like “I am the life of the party”, “I pay attention to details” and so on. It actually goes quicker than you’d think so if you want to give it a try go ahead and click here. (If the link doesn’t work feel free to type in your browser “Big 5 personality test” and click the first link.) I have found this information particularly insightful especially as I view my scores over time. Which leads me to the main topic of this article. How our personalities change over time and what impact society has on who we become.

When we think about our personalities, we may wonder how consistent we are throughout our lives. Many people think our unique personalities are relatively stable over time and they would be mostly correct in assuming that. When I was learning about this concept, I came across some disappointing and sickening data. Here are the charts that show how people’s personality changes on average across their life. Because most academic research clearly hasn’t caught up with the rest of us, the two groups on the chart are heteronormative and only include male and female as the biological sex. I think you’ll find for yourself and in my analysis that we can find trait estimates that may display similar or unique patterns according to other gender identities across the lifespan.

Let’s break it down one by one shall we?

Women are shown as more agreeable than men throughout their lives but the difference starts out relatively small. Around the age of 20 there is a sharper increase in agreeableness in women that only continues to rise as they age. I don’t think this is a coincidence, when women go out into the world as adults and start working they find it more and more necessary to be pleasant to succeed. Therefore, they agree. Many women likely get married and perhaps have children, as these relationships develop the pressure to put ourselves last increases and increases. Not to mention women working and raising children, who often feel shame in both positions and opt to agree more to satisfy everyone in their lives.

As teenagers, males and females end up with similar scores of conscientiousness, neither group seeming to care much about being on time, staying organized and so on, just as we would expect to see on average with teenagers. But all the sudden around age 20 theres that spike again. Both groups increase in conscientiousness as they presumably get more and more responsibilities. However women exhibit more conscientiousness, and yet we are still paid less, appreciated less and viewed as less likely leaders.

And of course there are some differences in openness and extraversions but most critically the agreeableness and conscientiousness rise leads directly to the neuroticism value.

At about the same age that pressure to be agreeable, likeable, on-time, tidy, organized, polite, PERFECT, sets in. . . . We see a rise in neuroticism scores.

That’s right.

Women are more prone to negative moods, irritability, depression, (life threatening conditions you know) and negative outlooks starting at age 10 and increasing persistently throughout our young lives. Thus in our attempt to fit into the worlds smallest box of what the patriarchy tells us to be we actually suffer health consequences and a diminished quality of life. We are less open and likely forced to be more extraverted to manage high relationship standards.

This isn’t simply how “women” are. This is clearly an effect of gender socialization. The way women are taught to behave, oftentimes from birth, reaping their effects later in life to make women more miserable.

The devastating issue we see here is likely exacerbated by race, class, gender identity and sexuality. These factors could moderate the effect to which we feel responsibility for others, perceive others and our future, navigate the world and have beliefs about ourselves. I know it is frustrating that psychology creates studies that are so heteronormative and doesn’t give us the data to make inferences about intersectional impacts but this discrepancy in the core of our personalities is a conversation we need to have. Looking at personality effects among many dimensions is something I will recommend to the researchers of this study. (they were kind enough to allow me to reproduce their graphs) The first thing we can do is reach out. With more and more data we can understand systematic problems in our society and begin to put structures in place to resolve them.

Please let me know what you make of this article, the data and just what you think about personality and gender socialization. I feel pretty discouraged and upset whenever I think about this data and work with it so please know you aren't alone. Feel free to comment your thoughts below or reach out, lets work together to create a brighter future.

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