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Analysis of Gender Differences: 'Big Five' Personality Traits in Both Men and Women

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For my paper, I decided to research how the “Big Five” personality traits are shown in both men and women, as well as how these traits are presented cross-culturally. The “Big Five” personality traits, also known as the Five Factor Model, are used to summarize and capture the vast differences in human personality (Soto and Jackson, 2). This model is broken down into five broad personality traits: Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism (also referred to as Emotional Stability), and Openness (also referred to as Imagination or Intellect) (Grohol). Extraversion measures one’s activity in social situations, Agreeableness measures one’s level of warmth or friendliness, Conscientiousness looks at one’s work ethic, Neuroticism determines one’s tendency to experience negative emotions, and finally, Openness measures how open-minded someone is (Grohol). Existing stereotypes make society believe that men and women have largely differing personalities, but is this actually true? Furthermore, are these personality differences maintained when examining other countries or cultures?

Differing personality traits between men and women can be explored by using the Revised NEO Personality Inventory, NEO-PI-R. The NEO-PI-R was developed by Costa and McCrae in 1992 and measures an individual’s levels of the Big Five traits, as well as six facets of each of these traits. This test is intended for use in both research and clinical settings (Costa and McCrae, 223). Through the use of the NEO-PI-R, studies have shown the personality differences between men and women.

Numerous studies have shown that women tend to score higher than men in terms of Neuroticism (Costa et. al., 322). According to Costa et. al., Neuroticism “is a broad domain of negative affect, including predispositions to experience anxiety, anger, depression, shame, and other distressing emotions” (322). With this information, it makes sense that major psychopathology diagnoses include “generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder with or without agoraphobia, phobias, major depression, dysthymic disorder, and borderline personality disorder” (Costa et. al., 323). are more common in women.

In terms of Extraversion, these results are more complicated. Since Extraversion combines both masculine and feminine traits, one must look at the facets of Extraversion in the NEO-PI-R to determine gender differences in this area. When looking at these facets, the general trend is that men score higher on Assertiveness, while women score higher on Warmth (Terracciano and McCrae).

Similarly to Extraversion, men and women tend to score differently on certain facets of Openness. There is a widespread belief that men make decisions based on reason, or “thinking”, and women are more focused on emotion or “feeling”. With this, Costa et. al. expect that men will continuously score higher on Openness to ideas, while women would outscore men on Openness to Aesthetics and Feelings (323).

Sergey Budaev’s 1999 study found that most of the time women scored higher than men on Agreeableness, which may be explained by their stereotypical submissive and loving nature (810). Lastly, gender differences in Conscientiousness have not been examined in depth, so there are no major differences noted between men and women in this case (Costa et. al. 323).

While these studies have shown differences in the personalities of men and women, do these distinctions hold up across different cultures? Cultural norms and variations in societies across the world provide a basis for distinct personality changes. Along with this, how are these distinctions explained and/or maintained?

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Williams et. al. conducted a 1999 study in which they compared gender stereotypes to the Five Factor Model in twenty-five different countries. Their research concluded that males from these twenty-five countries presented significantly higher levels of Conscientiousness, and outscored females in all areas besides Agreeableness. In contrast, females had much higher levels of Agreeableness (522). In this study, researchers tested Neuroticism as “Emotional Stability”, meaning that since men had higher scores, this fell into line with the pre-existing gender stereotype that women tend to be more neurotic than men.

While the general gender differences in the Big 5 traits are similar between cultures, some aspects vary. These differences can be attributed to a number of reasons. According to Costa et. al., “Western nations with individualistic values and with inhabitants who are more assertive and progressive have greater gender differences in self-reported personality traits than non-Western, collectivistic cultures” (327-328). Essentially, gender differences in personality are magnified in more progressive regions. For example, in Costa et. al.’s study, Belgians showed major gender differences, whereas Zimbabwean males and females appeared more homogenous (327).

Gender differences in personality could also be linked to sexual selection or adaptational choices from the evolutionary standpoint (Schmitt et. al. 2009, 169). While evolutionary decisions can explain personality differences between genders, these aspects don’t explain why gender differences can vary culturally. However, Schmitt et. al. (2009) mention that the mismatch perspective is an evolutionary theory that may allow researchers to make sense of these cultural differences. The mismatch perspective is described as a scenario in which contemporary environments are different from ancestral conditions, causing traits to become maladaptive (169). This perspective could potentially explain why less-developed nations show fewer gender differences.

Another interesting approach to understanding these differences can be explained by the social role theory. According to Eagly and Wood, the social role theory causes “differences and similarities [to] arise primarily from the distribution of men and women into social roles within their society”. With the social role theory, one would think that gender differences would appear smaller in nations with more egalitarian roles, but this is actually not the case.

The strongest piece of evidence that explains cultural gender differences in personality is the idea that egalitarian societies appear to have more personality differences than non-egalitarian nations, which disproves the social role theory. Schmitt et. al.’s 2016 study provided some interesting insight into this argument. Their research showed that “the largest overall gender differences in personality were found in relatively high gender egalitarian cultures of France (d = −0.44) and the Netherlands (d = −0.36), whereas the smallest gender differences were found in the relatively low gender egalitarian cultures of Botswana (d =0.00) and India (d = −0.01)” (47). Essentially, the more egalitarian a nation is and the less they rely on gender norms, the higher the gender differences are in terms of personality traits. Another interesting observation by Schmitt et. al. (2016) is that these increased gender differences in egalitarian nations may be due to how these people view each other. Members of egalitarian societies are more likely to see an act of “Agreeableness” done by a woman as a part of their personality, whereas if the same act had been done in a non-egalitarian nation, it would have been considered to be a reflection of social norms (50).

The use of the Five-Factor Model to detect differences in personality has been continued for decades, but how effective is this method of testing personality for people of different cultures? While there have been copious amounts of research done regarding pancultural gender differences in personality, Terracciano and McCrae note that these types of studies do have possible limitations. They discuss that cross-cultural personality studies using the Five-Factor Model can pose to be difficult due to “scale translation, cultural differences in response biases, and unfamiliarity with questionnaires in some cultures” (1). However, the most important limitation that they mentioned is the use of convenience samples (1). In most studies, researchers use college students to collect their data, which might not show the personalities of the overall population of that country, especially in non-western regions. In most studies, psychologists who conduct cross-cultural research should proceed with caution to ensure that their data provides a sample of the complete population.

In most cases, the gender differences in personality remain true across different cultures. Females tend to show higher levels of agreeableness and neuroticism, whereas males usually outscore women in conscientiousness or openness to ideas. However, while these differences were maintained across most cultures, some outliers do appear. These gender differences in personality were less magnified in non-western or non-egalitarian regions and were at their highest in egalitarian nations where gender norms are bent. There are a number of other possible explanations for consistent gender differences in personality across cultures, including evolutionary consequences, the social role theory, and errors in translation of the scales or inadequate research samples.

Works Cited

  1. Budaev, S. V. (1999). Sex differences in the Big Five personality factors: Testing an evolutionary hypothesis. Personality and Individual Differences, 26(5), 801–813. doi: 10.1016/s0191-8869(98)00179-2
  2. Costa, P. T., Terracciano, A., & Mccrae, R. R. (2001). Gender differences in personality traits across cultures: Robust and surprising findings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(2), 322–331. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.81.2.322
  3. Costa, P., & McCrae, R. R. (2008, January). The revised NEO personality inventory (NEO-PI-R). Retrieved from
  4. Eagly, A. H., & Wood, W. (2016). Social Role Theory of Sex Differences. The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Gender and Sexuality Studies, 1. doi: 10.1002/9781118663219.wbegss183
  5. Grohol, J. M. (2019, November 21). The Big Five Personality Traits. Retrieved from
  6. Schmitt, D. P., Realo, A., Voracek, M., & Allik, J. (2009). ‘Why can’t a man be more like a woman? Sex differences in big five personality traits across 55 cultures’: Correction to Schmitt et al. (2008). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96(1), 118–118. doi: 10.1037/a0014651
  7. Schmitt, D. P., Long, A. E., McPherson, A., Obrien, K., Remmert, B., & Shah, S. H. (2016). Personality and gender differences in global perspective. International Journal of Psychology, 52, 45–56. doi: 10.1002/ijop.12265
  8. Soto, C. J., & Jackson, J. J. (2013, January). Five-factor Model of Personality. Retrieved from
  9. Terracciano, A., & McCrae, R. R. (2006). Cross-cultural studies of personality traits and their relevance to psychiatry. Retrieved from
  10. Williams, J. E., Satterwhite, R. C., & Best, D. L. (1999). Pancultural Gender Stereotypes Revisited: The Five Factor Model. Sex Roles, 40, 513–525. Retrieved from

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Analysis of Gender Differences: ‘Big Five’ Personality Traits in Both Men and Women. (2023, April 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 30, 2023, from
“Analysis of Gender Differences: ‘Big Five’ Personality Traits in Both Men and Women.” Edubirdie, 21 Apr. 2023,
Analysis of Gender Differences: ‘Big Five’ Personality Traits in Both Men and Women. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 30 Sept. 2023].
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