As I continue to give workshops on character strengths, one of the most commonly asked questions is whether men and women score higher on different strengths. Until recently, there hasn’t been much to say. But, we have some answers now that the largest research study on gender differences and character strengths was conducted and recently published.
The study, conducted by researchers in Switzerland, examined well over 1 million people who had taken the VIA Survey of strengths across 65 published samples (groups of people) spanning 4 countries and multiple age groups (children, adolescents, adults). The results were interesting. Across the 24 character strengths, there was consistent, remarkable similarity between men and women. But, there were small yet meaningful differences discovered for four strengths that were higher for women (none for men).
These strengths are:
- Appreciation of beauty and excellence: You notice and appreciate beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in many domains of life. This includes the virtuous actions of people, the beauty of the sunshine glistening off a pond, the skill of a music teacher, and the artwork completed by your child.
- Kindness: You do favors and good deeds to help, support, or take care of others. You are generous with your time, money, and talents. You are compassionate, deeply feeling or understanding the suffering of others.
- Love: You value close relationships with people. Your sharing of warmth, genuineness, and closeness is reciprocal where you pursue a give and take relationship.
- Gratitude: You are aware of and thankful for the good things that happen to you. You take time to express thankfulness in some way to people.
These are 4 important character strengths that can be appreciated in any person that expresses them. Research shows each can be developed and strengthened as well.
In addition to the interesting finding on these four differences, it’s worth repeating that the main finding was how similar men and women were across the 24 character strengths.
While pundits and self-help proponents like to point out the differences between men and women, attention should also be brought to the similarities and common ground. This research supports the “gender similarity hypothesis.” The reality is we are far more alike than different. Our common character strengths tap into that “alikeness,” that alignment between men and women. There is universality among human beings in that these core characteristics are found in all of us. Men and women have more to relate to in one another than we realize.
For example, a woman can point out the strengths of fairness or teamwork in a man. He immediately understand what these qualities are, hears her explanation of how she sees the strengths in him, and he is inspired to exercise them more in his life. Meanwhile, a man can directly reinforce the strengths of hope or love of learning in a woman as a way of helping her understand herself and improve upon the strengths. Any man or woman can immediately relate to these strengths and begin corresponding with them. There are 24 “common ground” qualities we can appreciate in one another and by which we can build relationships and manage conflicts.
It’s important to note that these research findings are done on groups of people so a given man can certainly be higher on love or kindness than a woman and a given woman can be higher than a man on strengths not mentioned such as creativity, perspective, or prudence. It’s also important to look at what might be accounting for differences such as nationality (not an impact factor in this study), age (this accounts for some differences), and type of test taken (this also accounts for some differences).
Heintz, S., Kramm, C., & Ruch, W. (2017). A meta-analysis of gender differences in character strengths and age, nation, and measure as moderators. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1-10. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2017.1414297