Men Are Exceptional

Men and women vary in many ways. The debate has raged for a long time about whether this is more likely to be a result of nature or nurture. Some feminist groups tend to maintain that the differences are socialised and thus very much within the nurture camp. Recent research has shown that there are fundamental differences between human males and females, and that behavioural differences are evident even a few days after birth. So while some differences are certainly socialised we cannot any longer ignore or dismiss the fundamental differences that exist between human males and females.

It is the thesis of this article that a large proportion of observed differences between male and female life outcomes can be explained with reference to only one difference: variance. Men tend to vary in characteristics more than women. This has been shown to be true for all characteristics that have been studied and there is good evidence to suggest it is generally true.[1] This is often known as Greater Male Variability or the variability hypothesis although it would perhaps be better called a theory now as evidence builds. It is notable that this notion fell out of favour as a result of the activities of feminists in academia.[2]

Men vary more in height, weight and many other physical characteristics. While the average intelligence of men and women are the same or almost the same what is clear is that males vary more than females in intelligence.[3] This means that a majority of people with high IQs will be men as will a majority of people with a low IQ. The further we get from the mean the more pronounced this phenomenon is. Astoundingly, greater variance among men even appears to be true when it comes to personality.[4]

Everywhere we go we see the same trend. Men tending to dominate at the top of society with other men tending to fall to the bottom of society, with a smaller group of men and most women clustered in the middle.

When the females of a species invest significantly more energy in to gestation than males, as is the case for humans, then the size of the next generation is largely constrained by the number of fertile females. As a result of this a species can generally tolerate the loss of a male more easily than the loss of a female. It thus makes sense for a species to allow males to vary more in their characteristics. If a characteristic is disadvantageous to a species then the loss of males will be less damaging than the loss of females. If a characteristic is advantageous it can be spread to the rest of the species. Thus testing new characteristics on males is an advantage to a species overall and so we find men vary in their characteristics more than women. In effect the loss of women will constrain the size of the next generation, the loss of men will constrain genetic diversity. This does not justify male disposability though. Even if men were biologically disposable in the past, they no longer need to be. The Earth carries more than seven billion people today and could be carrying 10 or 11 billion within a few decades. We no longer need the ability to rapidly recover numbers, thus any presumed bias towards male disposability that existed in the past no longer applies.

Among humans the greater variance among men leads to significant implications for society. These tendencies have a widespread and profound impact on the human species and human civilisation and go a very long way to explaining the observed differences between men and women in terms of life choices and outcomes.

Since men vary more in characteristics it follows that they will be over-represented among the highest achievers in many areas. The lowest achievers in an area, those not suitable for employment or endeavour in that area, will generally choose to not work in that area. As a result when we look at most areas of achievement we should see the highest levels dominated by men with the rest of the men in the field and most women among those who perform in the field competently but without great distinction. If the highest achievers in a field are mostly men then we should expect the highest paid members of the field to be mostly men too.

A particularly notable area is scientific achievement which has been overwhelmingly conducted by men. Some argue that female scientists have been marginalised and their accomplishments attributed to men. That may be true in some cases but the reverse is true also. Marie Curie is often remembered for conducting ground breaking research in to radioactivity. Most know her name, but few know that she collaborated with two other scientists for this work – her husband Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel. Marie was actually the junior of the three scientists. Despite this she is often believed by the wider community to have made significant discoveries on her own with the efforts of her husband and Becquerel forgotten. Both Marie and Pierre were responsible for the discovery of Polonium and Radium although today these discoveries are often attributed to Marie alone.

In medicine, more than half of all doctors are women but they tend to become general practitioners. Most specialists are men. A good example is surgery. A surgeon needs to be intelligent, to have achieved both a medical degree and to have passed in this demanding speciality. But that isn’t sufficient. A surgeon needs an exceptionally steady hand and good manual dexterity – this cannot be taught. An individual either has these characteristics or they do not.[5] Even if we ignore other contributing factors the greater variance among men in intelligence, manual dexterity and endurance should lead to the conclusion that most surgeons will be men.

Business and political leaders are overwhelmingly men. Just as with scientific endeavour, men will dominate among those who are over-achievers in business with other men and most women performing competently.

Evidence suggests that men have always dominated among societies leaders. This is reflected in the modern world with men dominating among politicians in every country today except Rwanda. Rwanda is an exception because men were overwhelmingly the victims of the Rwanda Genocide and even today constitute only 46.5% of the population.[6]

Since men vary more in personality, in capabilities, and are over-represented among those with low IQ it follows that men should be over-represented among those who are anti-social, have difficulty fitting in and following societies rules. These are precisely the people most likely to commit offences and be imprisoned. This is what we do see in societies around the world.

It should be noted that all else being equal men are more likely to be charged with an offence, more likely to be convicted of an offence, and if they are convicted they are more likely to be incarcerated and will on average serve a significantly longer sentence. This is all true even when the circumstances surrounding the offence are substantially similar. Thus the higher proportion of male prison inmates cannot be explained by variance alone and is a function of institutional bias against men in the judicial system of many countries.

The vast majority of composers are men.[7] Music composition shows the same pattern that we see in other areas of endeavour. Those who have little or only average capabilities in music composition will not generally pursue this as a career. In contrast those who excel at music composition will pursue it as a career. Similarly, the majority of musicians are men. Many orchestras have around 25-30% female participation.[8] We should see the greatest domination by men in areas where individuality is most important. Among all areas of music the greatest gender disparity exists in jazz. This is also the area of music where individuality is most important, with the high emphasis on creativity and improvisation.

A notable area dominated by men is the game of chess. Chess is notable because it does not require physical strength, manual dexterity or any physical characteristics other than the ability to communicate. Chess does not require any knowledge other than knowledge of chess. Even having a high IQ is not a guarantee of success in chess. Like many fields of endeavour hard work and commitment are necessary along with innate ability. Having said that, chess is perhaps the purest example of exceptionality we have. The vast majority of chess grand masters are men.

Men even dominate in knowledge based game shows.[9]

It is a reasonably obvious position to claim that employers will generally want to employ people who can perform the work involved in that job to a reasonable standard. It can often be difficult to differentiate people who would be exceptional at performing the work. The bottom few percent of the population (as measured by job specific capability) will be the ones most likely to be unable to obtain employment. The bottom few percent of the population will be dominated by men. Thus, based on gender variance alone we may expect men to have a higher unemployment rate than women.

Quite a lot has been made of the y-chromosome of late. Claims are made that it is small, broken and inadequate. This is just more casual misandry. Those making statements like this have, at least, a fundamentally flawed view of human sexual selection and genetics. The y-chromosome is the basis of the exceptionality of men. It destabilises human genetics, which is precisely what you need to have exceptional individuals. It is why more male foetuses abort but it is also why there are more male Nobel prize winners, and great poets. Many of those denigrating the y-chromosome are ignoring the evidence right in front of their eyes.

This article has discussed the notion of greater variation, the negative and positive consequences of this and how they explain many of the historical trends observed. History is replete with powerful, famous and successful women but they were typically a minority.

The notion of greater variance among men has been discussed for decades and is, perhaps not surprisingly, not popular in feminist discourse. In 2005 Lawrence Summers, then the president of Harvard University, speculated on greater variance among men and the resultant domination of certain fields, particularly physical sciences, by men. Despite the fact that he made it clear that he was not criticising the suitability of women to physical sciences, he was publicly castigated and was subsequently the subject of a no-confidence motion by a faculty at Harvard. Harvard subsequently launched various initiatives to advance women in academia over the following months. It is likely that Summers innocent comments on gender variance and the subsequent outrage were major contributors to his resignation the following year.

In the end statistical analysis of the relative merits of different groups of humans is interesting but it says nothing about the ability of a particular individual human to achieve. Just because men dominate in a particular field does not mean that any given man is able to achieve in that field and it does not mean that any given woman cannot achieve in that field.

The title of this article may seem incendiary and may have caused some people to become angry. The title is of course a pun. Men are exceptional – but this means that men are over-represented among the most successful people in society but also over-represented among the least successful people in society. The title is offered as proof that Hanna Rosin, author of “The End of Men” and “Men are Obsolete” is not the only person who can write articles with provocative titles.

In general if you have a group of people who are competing on equal terms for top roles the most capable will be most likely to gain these roles. In many cases we can expect more men than women to be among the over-achievers and among the under-achievers. But the top roles are taken by the over-achievers, who are more likely to be men.

It should be noted that nothing in this article should be taken as being negative towards women. Women and men are needed for a properly functioning society. This article should also not be construed as suggesting that women cannot achieve at the highest levels. An individual is not constrained by the norms for their gender. Just because there are fewer women at the highest levels of achievement in many areas does not mean, in general, that a particular woman cannot be the best at what they do. It does mean though that most areas of achievement will be dominated by men.

A bit about the Author:

Robert is a men’s rights activist. He became an egalitarian before he was 10 and remains one today.  Robert is concerned for the welfare of men and boys in modern society. In particular he is concerned about the falling educational achievements of boys over the last few decades, and the manner in which male victims are marginalised and ignored by society. He has become increasingly alarmed at the level of misandry rising in society. Robert now lives in a society in which insulting comments can be made about men as a whole with little objection from the community. He believes this is an impediment to gender equality.

Robert wants the wider community to recognise and reject concepts like male disposability. He understands that while this has been an undercurrent of human society up until this point, technological changes have rendered this unnecessary. Robert rejects the feminist notions of patriarchy and kyriarchy as not being supported by evidence in modern or historical societies.  Robert believes that many people who call themselves feminists are in fact disconnected from the modern feminist movement. Robert regularly encourages people who self-identify as feminists to read modern feminist writings and attend feminist meetings and ask themselves if they agree with what modern feminism says about men and society. He believes that even in its earliest days that feminism was not really about equality but also believes that it is more important to fix the problems of today than debate social movements of the past.


7 thoughts on “Men Are Exceptional

  1. Hi. Thank you for your article. “Male variance” was a new topic for me.

    I would quibble on two points.

    You wrote:
    “It should be noted that all else being equal men are more likely to be charged with an offence, more likely to be convicted of an offence, and if they are convicted they are more likely to be incarcerated and will on average serve a significantly longer sentence. This is all true even when the circumstances surrounding the offence are substantially similar. Thus the higher proportion of male prison inmates cannot be explained by variance alone and is a function of *institutional bias* against men in the judicial system of many countries.”
    Whereas there aren’t many female composers throughout history because…men are just exceptional, and women have not been forced into roles that didn’t involve academic achievement?
    Surely you don’t need minimise women’s historical situation, to “put down” women to “big up” men, as it were? That wounds an otherwise interesting piece.

    Also, my two sisters (one who is an eye surgeon, the other who is a general practitioner) talk a lot about hours/schedule in relation to their respective speciality choices. One is planning on having children, the other is not. So, for me, using proportion of male surgeons as an argument for “greater variance among men in intelligence”, or other skills/abilities, seems to me to be a flawed conclusion drawn from incomplete data.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful response Sarah.

      “Surely you don’t need minimise women’s historical situation, to “put down” women to “big up” men, as it were? ”

      The claim that the lack of historical examples of exceptional female scientists, composers, engineers, etc. is explained primarily by men holding back, stealing the credit of, or otherwise excluding women from performing in these fields is lacking in any historical evidence and is strongly countered by the uncommon but not unusual counter-examples. In plain speech, it’s pure feminist revisionism. Claims along these lines exist almost solely within feminist analyses of history in which events are interpreted through the distorted lens of feminist “theory” which is itself lacking a solid evidentiary grounding and can be adapted to “prove” pretty much anything you like.

      The axiom that, “An hypothesis which apparently explains everything, actually explains nothing” leaps to mind. The various claims of feminism are based on hypotheses so vague and imprecise, and so highly abstract and remote from observation, as to be essentially disarticulated from any possible counter-evidence and is, as such, un-disprovable. You may as well say “godidit”.

      But I begin to digress. This is becoming a far broader criticism of feminism which is a topic for another article.

      “So, for me, using proportion of male surgeons as an argument for “greater variance among men in intelligence”, or other skills/abilities, seems to me to be a flawed conclusion drawn from incomplete data.”

      It seems to me that the author was drawing the obverse conclusion, to wit that the greater variance in intelligence or other skills/abilities that has been reliably shown to exist among populations of men, explain the greater proportion of male surgeons.

      I would agree that the former interpretation is unjustified but the latter is definitely consistent with data that are considered to be quite reliable.

      Perhaps the author can confirm whether or not this was indeed his point.

      • Yes you are quite correct. I was arguing that there are more male surgeons because there would be more men at the upper levels of those natural abilities necessary to become a surgeon.

  2. Thanks for your comment Sarah.

    Even from a scientific point of view male variance really is extraordinary. Just when we think we have a handle on biology it surprises us again.

    It certainly wasn’t my intention to minimise women’s historical situation or put down women. Far from it. If you look at many comments I’ve made online or at the articles I shall soon be posting you’ll find quite the contrary. I’ve argued for a long time that women have not been oppressed by men historically and that women were full participants in their societies historically. Albeit women often had different roles in societies because many societies would enforce roles based on gender and other characteristics like social class and ethnicity.

    The part of the text that you have quoted pertains to the problems men experience in the judicial system and I admit I can’t see the connection to a suggestion that I was minimising women’s historical situation or putting women down.

    I have recently compiled a list of female rulers to demonstrate that societies all around the world allowed female rulers. I have found two historical examples were societies had to choose to follow a local woman or a foreign man as their ruler. In both cases they fully supported the local woman over the foreign man. Nationality trumps gender apparently.

    I know feminists try to argue that intersectionality allows for simultaneous oppression of women and female rulers but I reject this argument, as a future article will show.

    We in the men’s rights movement advocate for the rejection of traditional gender roles. We want everyone to have a fair playing field on which they can be all that they can be.

    Thanks for your comments on medicine and surgery. Your point about flexibility of schedule impacting specialisation decisions is interesting. When I wrote that section I was principally talking about hand steadiness and manual dexterity rather than intelligence. I actually considered removing that section entirely late in editing as I wasn’t totally happy with it. Perhaps I may remove or heavily revise it in a future revision of the article.

  3. Hi Robert,

    Thanks for your explanation to my questions. I would heartily agree with a “rejection of traditional gender roles” and am currently reading Cheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”. The book quotes some interesting studies regarding women achieving, but not “highly”, as seen in the example of women (typically) becoming GPs and surgery being a more male-dominated field. She does touch upon the idea of men’s childcare roles becoming equally valued by society as women’s, which I find very interesting. I read recently that now 1 in 7 couples in the UK raise children where the man is the primary caregiver. But that’s straying in to a topic for a whole new post 🙂

    You wrote:
    More men are incarcerated due to “*institutional bias* against men in the judicial system of many countries”
    But you also say:
    “a large proportion of observed differences between male and female *life outcomes* can be explained with reference to only one difference: variance.”
    So, *men* excel through variance, not social/institutional bias. A man’s “life outcome” (incarceration) is social bias, not variance. But a woman’s “life outcome” (traditional female role, not high flying) is based on “variance”, not “social bias”? That seems like some hypocritical and biased conclusions to me.

    You say that:
    “It is notable that this notion fell out of favour as a result of the activities of feminists in academia.[2].”
    I really like the way your article is sourced and have just read the source in depth.
    Your source* finishes with:
    “The variability hypothesis is treated today as a statistical question rather than a justification for limiting opportunities for girls and women.”
    Does it really matter that it was discredited by “feminists”? The conclusion of your source is, that it was discredited from 1903 onwards, and hasn’t come back into fashion.

    Also, you talk in your article about how “male variance” theories (the ones from 100 years ago) are used to support “male disposability” theories. I hadn’t considered that this theory of some men being *superior* leads to others being *disposable*, as well as women being unequal intellectually. It’s almost reminiscent of ideas for white/upper class superiority, and indigenous/lower class inferiority, perpetuated by British colonialists.

    Thanks again for a thought provoking article! I look forward to reading your other posts.

    *I have a question about sources. How do you find your sources online? I remember in college, as part of our expensive membership, we were granted access to an online database of “accredited” sources. Now that I have finished my undergrad it seems like all I have access to is Wikipedia and The Washington Post. I ask this because I used google to find evidence for LS Hollingworth being a feminist. She is described that way on the “Variability Hypothesis” Wikipedia page, but not on her biographical Wikipedia page. I’m thinking about enrolling in studying a Masters to study Gender in 12 months and I want to read credible info but don’t want to wait a year! Do you think that MIT’s newspaper is a credible source? A lot of studies seem to discredit the “male variance” theory.
    But now allow me to examine this Greater Male Variability (GMV) hypothesis in more detail. The hypothesis states that male intelligence is more variable than that of females. As far as I can tell, it was first suggested in 1894 by Havelock Ellis and was most recently brought to public attention after it was endorsed by economist and former Harvard President Larry H. Summers ’75. Undoubtedly, the idea that male intelligence has a flatter distribution than female intelligence has a great deal of support. The trouble with the hypothesis is that the evidence is not nearly as consistent as Yost would have you believe. For while it is true that many studies in various countries show greater variability in intelligence for boys, this is by no means universally true.
    First, this effect is not consistent across race: A 2008 study using Minnesota state math assessments showed that at the 99th percentile, the male-to-female ratio was 2.06 for Whites, but 0.91 for Asian-Americans. There were more math-proficient Asian girls than boys.
    I will not deny that there is a great deal of support for the GMV hypothesis — and we certainly shouldn’t shy away from an uncomfortable conclusion simply because it doesn’t jibe with our preconceived notions — but because the studies that support it, especially the famous study of Scottish children, come from societies steeped in gender norms that favor the results the studies produce, it would be disingenuous and premature to consider the case closed in the face of a stubborn body of evidence that supports a totally different conclusion.

  4. Wow that was a long reply.

    I do believe you have misunderstood some of what I wrote in the article. Quite a bit of your response is based on intelligence variance. As I went through the data I was satisfied that this argument was sufficiently strong to include it but, to repeat a key point from the article, this tendency towards greater male variance is found in a wide variety of characteristics. I think it is entirely inaccurate to suggest this is discredited – the evidence has been building and new areas, such as greater male variance in personality, have only been discovered recently.

    As for sources, yes some sources do require university subscriptions but there are a very wide variety of sources available online for free. Check out Wikipedia citations. I’ve argued for a long time that research skills are no longer important – what is important now is the ability to filter and quickly evaluate large amounts of information.

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