Our Revealing Perceptions on Gender & Vice

Which gender is more likely to cheat on their spouse? To overreact? To watch pornography? To tell a lie?

These are age-old debates, of course. And we can’t answer these questions for  sure without some pretty massive empirical studies.

But ultimately, I don’t think it’s just the truth that we’re interested in. I think we’re equally as intrigued by what each gender thinks about the other—how men and women think differently about the other sex, and what that means about how we relate to each other.

That’s the subject of this week’s survey—the first in my new Survey Says series, where I use surveys & polls to reveal what we really think about big, important issues (like gender).

Methodology Notes: This survey was fielded online to a random sample of American adults. It’s controlled for age and gender, to roughly match the US general population. More on my methodology here.

Here’s how it worked.

I asked 228 American adults a host of demographic questions: age, religious affiliation, gender, race, and political views. I followed those questions with a list of 20 questions on gender & vice. Each one began like this:

  • In your opinion, which gender is more likely…

And each one ended with something like this:

  • to go broke?
  • to have anxiety?
  • to overreact?
  • to view pornography?

20 “vices” like that. You get the picture.

Finally, the answer options for these questions included:

  • a male
  • a female
  • both genders equally likely

Now, a more entrepreneurial analyst might have said to leave off the third option and force respondents to pick either male or female. That way, we’re sure to get interesting findings.

But I decided this wouldn’t be fair. “Both genders equally likely” is a totally fair opinion—it’s not required someone believe one gender is more likely than the other for every one of these vices. So while forcing respondents to pick either male or female might have yielded more “scandalous” findings, it’s simply not a responsible way to ask that question.

And besides, I find the third answer option as interesting as the other two. It’s the “easy way out,” sure, but given the media’s inflammatory rhetoric surrounding gender in recent years, seeing that become the most popular answer option could put a damper on that unnecessarily divisive perspective.

Two quick notes.

  1. I’m titling this report Gender & Vice, but close readers will note that not every item in this instrument is a “vice.” Namely, I asked which gender is more likely to donate a kidney (obviously not a vice) and help a stranger to serve as foils for flatliners (that is, a quality control).
  2. My sample size here is a bit small. That’s for two reasons. First, this is my first post in this series, and I want to be sure my approach is sound and well-received before dropping more funds into this project. Second, I noticed some clear trends emerging after about 150 responses that I doubt would change, no matter how many respondents I added. I’ll explain more on this later.

Next, some key findings.

Some interesting findings here.

By and large, respondents were most likely to pick “both genders equally likely” across all the vices. This option outsized the sum of male plus female answers for every vice included in the survey except for to have anxiety, to overreact, to kiss and tell, to watch pornography, and to get lost.

In addition, comparing the answers of male respondents with female respondents reveals some interesting—even funny—differences in how each gender perceives the other. While I was tempted to say males appear to be more self-deprecating than females (they were more likely to pick themselves for many of these vices), it’s possible I inadvertently picked vices that males are more likely to see in themselves (I am a male, after all), and that females would be just as likely to pick themselves for other vices I didn’t include here. After all, females were more likely to pick themselves for a few of these vices.

Finally, there are some “groups” of vices here that definitely trend one gender over the other. For example, males were chosen significantly more often than females for vices having to do with relationships and sex (i.e. viewing pornography). Females were chosen significantly more often than males for vices having to do with emotions (i.e. overreacting and having anxiety). I’ll dive into this below.

Some detailed findings.

I know, I know—I’m long-winded. The charts below are what you really came here to see. So have at it!

To make these easier to view, I’ve separated these topline findings into three different charts—one that shows vices that skew neither male nor female, another that shows vices that skew male, and another that shows vices that skew female.

Figure 1: Vices that Skew Neither Male nor Female
These vices showed no large differences between the genders (again, this is what gender was chosen as more likely by the aggregate of all respondents—it has nothing to do, yet, with the genders of the survey respondents).
Figure 2: Vices that Skew Male
Here, we see those vices that respondents were more likely to say males were more likely to do. For some of these, both genders equally likely is by far the most popular answer, though males are still significantly more likely to be chosen than females.

Again, this is the aggregate answers of all respondents, and has nothing to do (yet) with the respondents’ genders.

Figure 3: Vices that Skew Female
Here, you’ll notice the list is a bit smaller. Simply put, respondents as a whole are less likely to answer that females are more likely to do these vices. But the first two rows above show some large, and definitely significant, differences in favor of females.

Cutting the data by gender.

At the beginning of the survey, I asked the following question:

  • With which of the following genders do you identify?

Answer options were male and female. By design (I controlled for gender), the survey sample is roughly half male (47.8%), half female (52.2%). When cutting the data by respondent gender, each segment has more than 100 responses.

This segmentation is what excited me most about this survey. Frankly, I’m not terribly surprised by anything shown in the graphs above. But what follows in the graphs below is definitely interesting.

Note that I’ve only included graphs where there are big differences between males’ and females’ answers. If you don’t see one of the questions in this section, it’s because males and females agree with each other (therefore, the difference between the two genders’ answers is not worth pointing out).

As you view the charts below, remember that each question began identically: In your opinion, which gender is more likely…

And note that the Y-axis is respondents’ genders, and the legend (at bottom) are respondents’ answers.

Both genders think males are more likely to curse in front of their kids. Males are significantly more likely than females to think this.
This is, to me, the most interesting graph in this set. While more than half of both genders think both genders are equally likely to give up their kidney, each gender is significantly more likely to choose their own gender when asked this question.
While both genders are likely to say females are more likely than males to have anxiety, females are far more likely to pick their own gender for this question. Indeed, this is one of just two questions where the majority of at least one gender picked either male or female, and not both genders equally likely.
Approximately the same percent of each gender says males are more likely to be annoying. But males are significantly more likely than females to say that females are more likely to be annoying.
Both genders are considerably more likely to pick their own gender as the one more likely to overeat. Interesting…
Males are far more likely to pick themselves as more likely to cheat in school. Note that almost no females selected their own gender for this one.
Females are significantly less likely to pick males as more likely to help a stranger. Even males are just as likely to pick females as to pick themselves.
While both genders are equally likely to pick males as more likely to tell a lie, males are far more likely than females to say females are more likely to lie. Almost no females, on the other hand, are likely to pick their own gender here.
Males are far more likely to pick their own gender as the one more likely to spend all day watching TV. In other words, might we say men are admittedly lazier than women? I wish I’d asked about laziness.
While males are definitely seen as the gender more likely to cheat on their partner, males are considerably more likely than females to pick females here.

In conclusion…

As I said before, I don’t find any of the topline figures too surprising, and even the cut by gender isn’t a paradigm shifter. I’m not surprised that more of these vices skew male (which, again, may have to do with the kinds of vices I picked). I’m not surprised that both genders equally likely is, by far, the most frequently selected option.

That last point is, indeed, the major finding here—we’re less “gendered” in our perspective of things than I think many social commentators would have us believe. All but a small handful of these vices (plus the two virtues) are seen equally applicable to both males and females.

But remember—this is a survey. It’s people’s stated answers to questions, and doesn’t necessarily reflect subconscious beliefs that influence the way they act in the real world.

For example, I run willingness to pay surveys for companies all the time. A consistent finding is that survey respondents exhibit a higher willingness to pay in a survey than they exhibit in real life (than, that is, their willingness to actually take out their wallet).

When surveying about contentious issues (like gender), these subconscious beliefs are especially important to keep in mind. Many of us are conditioned from a young age to say or think certain things (like, for example, that men and women are equal), and we’ll reflect that training in a survey. But whether we’ve actually internalized these ideals such that we behave in accord with them is a different question—one to keep in mind whenever you’re looking at data like this.

(^That’s me being honest about the value of survey data like this—definitely valuable, but not the final word. Always pair your interpretation of survey data with your intuition and “secondary” research about the topic at hand.)

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