Deciding between a male or a female spokesperson for a campaign? The better choice may depend on the virtue you’re hoping to convey and the audience you’re hoping to persuade, to judge by a Pew Research Center Social and Demographic Trend survey on the personality traits people associate with each sex.
People were give a list of personality traits and asked whether they think each is more characteristic of men or of women. For the most part, respondents saw women having a stronger claim on positive traits. Regarding “honest,” for example, 50 percent said the term is more true of women, vs. 20 percent saying it’s more true of men. (The rest said it applies to each sex equally or declined to answer.) The pro-female gap was even wider with respect to “compassionate,” with just 5 percent saying the term is more descriptive of men, vs. 80 percent assigning it to women. As for intelligent, 38 percent said this is more true of women and 14 percent said it’s more true of men. For “ambitious,” respondents divided their votes equally, with 34 percent saying this trait is more female and the same number saying it’s more male. The old view of women as manipulative apparently persists: An outright majority (52 percent) pinned this label on women, vs. 26 percent saying it applies more strongly to men. Even among female respondents, a plurality said “manipulative” is more descriptive of women (48 percent) than of men (32 percent).
Given men’s arrogance — 70 percent of respondents said the term of more true of men, vs. 10 percent saying it’s more true of women — you may be surprised to learn they largely agree that women have a more legitimate title to many positive characteristics. Male respondents gave women the nod over men when it comes to honesty (45 percent vs. 23 percent), intelligence (33 percent vs. 18 percent), creativity (54 percent vs. 14 percent) and compassion (78 percent vs. 7 percent). Female respondents were even more likely to say each of these qualities belongs more to women than to men. Men and women disagreed on which sex is the more “hardworking” one. For this trait, male respondents picked men over women, 34 percent to 21 percent; female respondents picked women over men, 35 percent to 23 percent.
By a narrow margin (40 percent to 37 percent), female respondents ceded the “decisive” label to men. (Male respondents did the same, by 48 percent to 29 percent.) But women also seem to feel men stick with their decisions more than they ought to: 52 percent of female respondents assigned the “stubborn” designation to men. Then again, so did a plurality (40 percent) of the male respondents. Just don’t ask them to change their minds about it.