Why women are better than men
Female favourite: Revenge.
THIS STARTED as a research project on the differences between Australian men and Australian women. Partway through my examination of some 60 reports from the Bureau of Statistics, it turned into something else. It became a reflection on what makes a good human being, and an attempt to answer the question: Is one gender better than the other?
Most parents would want their kids to grow up to be a healthy, happy and good person. Their definition of “good” would probably include such qualities as honesty, dependability, bravery, thoughtfulness, imagination, enthusiasm, generosity and sensitivity to the feelings of others.
Condoms might help, but they’re so annoying.
The Bureau of Stats does not set out to measure those qualities, or to determine which gender has more of them, but there was loads of relevant evidence in the 60 reports I examined. The conclusion I’ve come to should not be blamed on the Bureau, which is scrupulously impartial in reporting all its data. But it’s inescapable.
Female favourite: Packed To The Rafters
My focus started to change when I read the Bureau’s attempt to explain why 52 per cent of the people who die each year are men: “The difference in the death rates for males and females is attributed to different attitudes, biology, behaviours, lifestyles and working patterns.
“Females, for example, are less likely to be overweight or to smoke, which reduces the risk of some cancers, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Males are more often involved in hazardous occupations and are more prone to risky behaviours, particularly in early years of adult life, which together result in higher death rates due to accidents.”
Then I read the Bureau’s report on charity work, which found that 38 per cent of women and 34 per cent of men say they volunteer to help others each year. The Bureau observes: “Both male and female volunteers reported fundraising/ sales most frequently as part of their voluntary work (51 per cent of males and 58 per cent of females). Some of the activities undertaken by male and female volunteers fitted traditional stereotypes … female volunteers reported 'preparing and serving food' as a volunteering activity more frequently (48 per cent) than did males (28 per cent), whereas males were more likely to be involved in 'repairing/ maintenance/ gardening' activities (38 per cent) than were females (14 per cent). Males were also likely to be more involved in coaching/ refereeing/ judging as a volunteering activity (35 per cent) than were females (17 per cent).”
Male favourite: The Block,
Among people who are the primary carer for somebody incapacitated, 54 per cent are women.
Now compare all that with the way we celebrate the good people in our society. The Order of Australia system of honours, which replaced the British knighthoods and OBEs in 1986, is designed to recognize charity work. The most frequently awarded honour is the medal of the Order of Australia (OAM).
The bureau reports: “Between 2003 and 2012, 4,644 (65 per cent) OAMs have been awarded to men, and 2,496 (35 per cent) OAMs have been awarded to women. Over the last decade, the only two categories where more women than men have received awards were the Library and Related Occupations (60 per cent of the 20 awards given) and Disabled (51 per cent of the 210 awards given) categories.”
Male favourite: The Big Bang Theory
Evidently women help others more than men do, but men are more awarded than women. Why might this be? Could it be because the honours system is about how much money people donate to causes rather than how much time people devote to helping others?
Men have more money to give away, because they have the best-paid jobs. The Bureau reports that males occupy 98 per cent of the senior executive positions and 91 per cent of the directorships in the top 500 ASX companies, 64 per cent of the senior and middle management positions in the public service, and 69 per cent of the judge and magistrate positions in the legal system.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Since jobs in the 21st century are allocated purely on merit, it must be that men are smarter than women. Is there evidence? Yes, the Bureau tells us 87 per cent of women finished high school compared with 84 per cent of men, and 39 per cent of women and 32 per cent of men have university degrees.
The latest national literacy and numeracy tests show that 54 per cent of men and 59 per cent of women have a prose literacy level “at or above the minimum required for individuals to meet the complex demands of everyday life and work in the emerging knowledge-based economy”, while 55 per cent of men and 45 per cent of women are at or above the numeracy level ”considered the minimum required for meeting the complex demands of everyday life.”
So apparently it’s mathematical ability that leads you to the big bucks in business, law and the public service. (Try not to be distracted by the revelation that more than 40 per cent of the men and women of this nation read and count at a level lower than the minimum required to cope with modern life. That is a scary topic for another day).
Lets try a couple more comparisons.
The reckless and the responsible
The last prison census found that 93 per cent of the people in jail were male.
A bit of detail from the bureau: “The highest proportion of male prisoners were sentenced for acts intended to cause injury (17 per cent) as the most serious offence, followed by sexual assault (14 per cent). For female prisoners, the highest proportion were sentenced for illicit drugs (17 per cent) as the most serious offence, followed by acts intended to cause injury (14 per cent); 10 per cent of male prisoners were sentenced for robbery, extortion and related offences compared to 6 per cent of female prisoners. There were higher proportions of female prisoners than male prisoners for the following offence types: fraud, deception and related offences and illicit drug offences.”
But women are catching up: “Between the 2011 and 2012 Prisoner Census dates, the number of male prisoners increased by 0.4 per cent (101) and female prisoners increased by 8 per cent (172).”
Of course men are also victims of crime -- they are 68 per cent of murder victims and 60 per cent of violent robbery victims, while women are 85 per cent of sexual assault victims and 60 per cent of abduction victims.
The data on sexually transmitted diseases offers another insight into which gender might be more reckless. A man is seven times more likely than a woman to be diagnosed with syphilis, five times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV, and twice as likely to be diagnosed with gonorrhea. Condoms might help, but they’re so annoying.
You can’t help wondering if men take a pretty casual attitude to their own health. Examples: 29 per cent of men and 10 per cent of women drink alcohol at a level considered a “high risk” to health over their lifetime; 20 per cent of men and 16 per cent of women are regular smokers; 70 per cent of men and 55 per cent of women are overweight or obese.
And when they get sick, men try to tough it out. On average women receive 17 Medicare services a year, while men receive 12. Must be because women are hypochondriacs.
Men are also more casual about the environment. Worried about the disposal of household waste: 67 per cent of women, 60 per cent of men. Worried about climate change: 61 per cent of women and 53 per cent of men.
The physical and the intellectual
Compare the cultural preferences: 50 per cent of men say they go to at least one sporting event a year, compared with 37 per cent of women; 41 per cent of women go a library at least once a year, compared with 26 per cent of men; 21 per cent of women and 12 per cent of men attend at least one opera or musical a year; 25 cent of women and 21 per cent of men go to an art gallery or museum.
These are the TV shows more watched by women than by men: Revenge; Packed To The Rafters; Downton Abbey; Masterchef: The Professionals; Bones; Parenthood and Home and Away. These are more watched by men than women: The Big Bang Theory; The Block; Last Resort; The Force: Behind the Line; Highway Patrol; 60 Minutes; Nine news Sunday. The genders are equally devoted to My Kitchen Rules.
The strong and the fragile
Some 13 per cent of women and nine per cent of men report that they have suffered a “high level of psychological stress” during the past 12 months. This may be because women have more details to be stressed about: they represent 64 per cent of dementia sufferers, and are in 87 per cent of one-parent families with children under 15.
How do the genders cope with their stress: 35 per cent of males say they had a “substance abuse” problem (alcohol and/ or drugs) at some time in their life, compared with 14 per cent of females. And men are three times more likely to die from suicide than women.
It is, of course, stupid to generalise about gender. There are more than a few good men and more than a few women who are cowardly, dishonest, selfish, and unreliable.
But if I had to draw on my superior male numeracy skills to bet on the relative proportions of males and females in heaven, I would not put my money on 50-50.
A woman is more likely to .............. A man is more likely to
Watch Packed To The Rafters Watch The Big Bang Theory
Own her home Be homeless
Have dementia Commit suicide
Work part-time Work full time
Have a university degree Have high blood pressure
Do swimming, netball and yoga Do cycling, golf and soccer
Have "psychological distress" Have a substance abuse problem
Live in Victoria Live in Western Australia
Volunteer to help others Receive an OAM
Be sexually assaulted Be bashed
Be a lone parent Be at the top level of numeracy
Die of a stroke Smoke
Visit a library Be in a car accident
Go to an opera or musical Be a farmer
Live past 80 Be in jail
Initiate a divorce application Be overweight
Visit a GP Be a company director
Have arthritis Have diabetes
Eat enough fruit and veg Earn more than $1100 a week
Be worried about climate change Be a politician
David Dale teaches communications at UTS, Sydney. He is the author of The Little Book of Australia -- A snapshot of who we are (Allen and Unwin). For daily updates on Australian attitudes, bookmark The Tribal Mind.