Do a PhD with us at UNSW Sydney: Economic inequality as a driver of sexual competition and gendered traits

Could this PhD project explain Kimye? We reckon it could unlock this and other important mysteries.

This is an exceptional opportunity at UNSW Sydney for students interested in how evolved traits interact with economic circumstances to shape behaviour in contemporary societies.

Students may be trained in evolutionary biology, psychology, anthropology, economics or other disciplines.

This position is supported by the generous Scientia PhD Scholarship Scheme at UNSW Sydney, Australia. In addition to a stipend of $40K p.a. There is a $10k p.a. Travel allowance, and other opportunities for career development.

The supervisory team is:

Project Description

We propose to test the exciting idea that economic inequality among households also shapes mating competition, giving rise to many of the stark sex differences in dress, spending patterns, and mental and physical health that pervade societies. While wealthy Western countries have progressed steadily toward gender-equitable opportunities over the last century, differences between women and men in aggression, interests and the incidence of diseases like anxiety and depression have, paradoxically, increased. It is clear that ossified old ways of understanding gendered traits as either biologically essential o

r socially constructed have little to offer in terms of further understanding.

Our approach transcends old territorial boundaries, and promises a newer, better and more general way to understand gendered behaviours, including those implicated in harm to mental health, safety, and happiness. The work will involve both experimental psychological research and analysis of economic data. The project will be designed in collaboration between student and supervisors.

There may be opportunities for field work in Australia or the Pacific islands.

This is a highly competitive scheme, with excellent support, open to students from any country.

Interested students must express interest by 21 July (20 July in the Western hemisphere due to time differences). To learn more and to express interest visit the official UNSW page.

At the same time as you fill out the form, please email rob.brooks – at – a CV, academic transcript, and a few paragraphs on why you are interested int his project, plus any questions you have for us.

Up to 2 students will be asked to submit full applications in August.

There is also a lot more about the scheme at

Gender equity can cause sex differences to grow bigger

1960 Le Lac des cygnes ballet - Jean-Paul Andreani and Claire Motte performing on stage at Opera de Paris.  Credit: Christjeudi10, Wikimedia commons
1960 Le Lac des cygnes ballet – Jean-Paul Andreani and Claire Motte performing on stage at Opera de Paris. Credit: Christjeudi10, Wikimedia commons

How do sex differences arise? Few questions animate as much disagreement and contention, in everyday society and in academic study. For as long as the question has been asked, the answers have fallen between two extremes: sex differences arise innately, or they come from social experience.

That same polarity defines much of the study of human behaviour and society, and has done since the ancient Greeks asked whether ideas arose innately (Rationalism) or from experience (Empiricism). The modern fault-line runs deepest between rationalist biology and empiricist socialisation.

Impossible as it might seem for any serious thinker, awake and aware and living in the current Century, to dismiss either biology or socialisation, you might be surprised. Dogmatism and ignorance still stifle the study of human behaviour, and the topics of gender and sex differences in particular. And the lay public is equally awash in tightly-held, but often flimsy ideas about how women and men come to differ, on average, in all sorts of traits.

The evidence is in: samples of women and men differ, on average, in a vast number of personality, emotional, behavioural, cognitive and attitudinal measures. Yes, the sexes overlap. And one cannot and should not rush to inferring anything about a person from the average properties of those who share the same genital configuration. But sex differences are present, found in many replicate studies, and often similar in magnitude across societies.

Rationalist biology holds that such differences have evolved. The combination of traits that made our male ancestors successful fathers differ from those that turned our female ancestors into successful mothers. This idea chimes with the repeated presence of so many sex differences across cultures, but the fact that the magnitude of the differences varies considerably among cultures suggests much more than biological determinism.

The Empiricist thinking that has dominated the study of gender in the social sciences for more than half a century holds that sex differences arise from extensive socialisation, and differences in the power that women and men hold and wield. This view brings us the notion that by ceasing to socialise boys and girls into stereotyped sex roles, and breaking down power inequities within societies, sex differences will diminish.

The idea that teaching, socialisation and structural change will progressively erode sex differences and gendered behaviour has a powerful hold. It underpins social interventions from “No Gender December” (a.k.a. the Christmastime war on pink toys) to the current Stop it at the Start campaign against domestic violence.

Stop it at the Start video, part of an Australian Government campaign to combat domestic violence against women.

A testable prediction

A recent book chapter by eminent evolutionary psychologist David P. Schmitt adds an interesting dimension, sure to be controversial, but also with considerable potential to rejuvenate debate. The book, The Evolution of Sexuality (Springer, editors Todd K Shackleford and Ranald D. Hansen), at US $139 will likely prove inaccesible to readers without access to an academic library.

Alice Eagly, Wendy Wood and Mary Johannesen-Schmidt, among the most persuasive advocates for the primacy of socialisation into sex roles, predicted that increasing gender equality would lead to “the demise of many sex differences”. That prediction seems so intuitive, so consistent with contemporary thinking about gender equity, that it hardly needs testing. But Schmitt didn’t think so. He recognised that not only should the idea be put to the test, but that there exists a wealth of data on cross-cultural on variation in personality, behavioural and other traits that could be matched with good measures of gender equity and sex role ideology.

Counter to the prediction of social role theory, in only 2 out of 28 traits examined by Schmitt did sex differences narrow as gender equity increased. In six traits, the sex difference remained stable, and in 20 traits it widened.

For example, women tend to score higher than men on personality tests for extraversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness. Gender equity tends to elevate all three of these traits, but it does so more in women, widening the average sex difference.

Likewise, men score higher than women for the “Dark Triad” traits of Machiavellianism, Narcissism and Psychopathy. Gender equity has the salutary effect of reducing each of these three rather nasty traits, but it does so more for women than for men, resulting in wider sex differences.

The two traits in which gender equity narrowed sex differences are instructive, too. Women are more likely than men to value resources and wealth in a mate. Gender equity reduces this preference, but does so more in women, narrowing the sex difference. And men tend to report a more unrestricted sociosexuality – fantasising about, attitudes toward and engaging in uncommitted sex – than women do. Sexuality grows less restricted with gender equity in both sexes, but more so in women, again narrowing the sex difference.

The narrowing of sex differences in preference for wealthy mates and sociosexuality are to be expected, and very much in line with the politics of sexual and domestic liberation. This is exactly what any observer of contemporary society would have expected, irrespective of the moral valence they give to the issues involved.

Many behavioural traits showed general changes for the better with increasing gender equity. Personalities take on more socially desirable forms. Couples emphasise love within their romantic relationships. Intimate partner violence declines. And rates of depression decrease. And yet the fact that sex differences in so many of those traits increased opens up considerable new space for empirical study, and for us to question dogma and doctine of all kinds about how sex differences arise.

This study is just a start. There remains some way to travel if we are to make stronger inferences about causation. But it is worth wrapping our head around the paradox that moves toward gender equity in opportunity, including the dismantling of patriarchal power structures, might, paradoxically, also widen sex differences.

Bohemian Like You, the Dandy Warhols.

The Conversation

Rob Brooks, Scientia Professor of Evolutionary Ecology; Director, Evolution & Ecology Research Centre, UNSW Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Are you a feminist? Two simple ways to tell.

Are you a feminist?

It’s a question I ask of my third-year Animal Behaviour class every year. I ask the question in a lecture, near the end of the course, about human sexuality. It’s a part of the lecture where I discuss sexual conflict: the idea that what’s best for one mate isn’t necessarily best for the other.

This leads on to discussion about how sources of power (such as the work women and men can do in a society), and customs that shape the supply and demand of sex can dramatically change human mating patterns. It’s one of those areas where evolutionary biology offers remarkable, powerful insights into difficult political and ideological issues.

I’m always surprised at how few students answer in the affirmative. Last week, when I asked the question, just two students raised their hands. And rather sheepishly, at that.

Many probably equivocated and held back, reluctant to take a position in front of their classmates. Others have probably not really thought about it that much. And others, sympathetic to ideas of equity have been turned off the idea by negative stereotypes of feminism.

Whether or not to identify with feminism, or as a feminist, has never, it seems, been quite as complicated as it is today. Why wouldn’t it be? Hear the words of one of 2013’s most influential women, Beyoncé, this very week playing to packed Australian arenas.

I truly believe that women should be financially independent from their men. And let’s face it, money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define value. They define what’s sexy. And men define what’s feminine. It’s ridiculous.

The ridiculously confusing bit (something we used to call irony before the hipsters thought it was cool), as Hadley Freeman pointed out in The Guardian earlier this year, is that Beyoncé shares this wisdom in American GQ:

A men’s magazine in which she poses nearly naked in seven photos, including one on the cover in which she is wearing a pair of tiny knickers and a man’s shirt so cropped that her breasts are visible.

Ruminating this weekend over why so few of my smart, engaged students would self-identify as feminists, I was delighted to see this flow-chart in an article by Rebecca Searles, an editor at Huffington Post.

Uncomplicating feminism

Rebecca’s flow-chart is, of course, a massive oversimplification. With a delectable bit of polemicism thrown in: if you aren’t in favour of equal rights and opportunities then “you probably suck as a person”. It probably won’t become the new litmus-test for a suddenly unified global feminism. But she makes a valuable point that, in a world where rights and opportunities are far from equal, those in favour of equality, or equity, should seek to find and identify with one another.

Searles designed the flow-chart in exasperation at contemporary pop-stars and teen role models who misuse the term “feminist”, thus both undermining feminism and sounding “like idiots”.

If you’ve read this column, or my book, you’ll have a fair idea of my politics. Many of my favourite commentators on this site call me a feminist, thinking it’s a perjorative term. Which makes them sound, as Rebecca Searles might say, “like idiots”. But forced to label myself, I’d call myself pro-feminist.

Why so reluctant to call myself a feminist? As a man, I’ve always felt it safest to stay outside the tent, happy for the title to be conferred from within but reluctant to claim it for myself.

It’s a position reinforced earlier this year with the spectacular fall from grace of Hugo Schwyzer, the internet’s erstwhile highest profile male feminist. Schwyzer rather dramatically quit the internet (how is that even possible?), twice, when his troubled personal history and a recent affair caused a rather spectacular swing against him in his own constituency [I’ve collated some of the key links here].

There is inherent peril, I feel, for a man who leans too heavily on his feminist credentials. Some, like Schwyzer, have Tyrannosaur-like skeletons in their closets. All of us have the inevitable flaws to which human flesh is heir.

I’m not the only one for whom the word “feminist” conjures an exclusively feminine image. Consider the hilarious Caitlin Moran. In her recent book How to be a Woman, Moran first laments the same confusion among women over whether to identify as feminists:

We need to reclaim the word ‘feminism’. We need the word ‘feminism’ back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29% of American women would describe themselves as feminist – and only 42% of British women – I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?

Moran then offers what, after Searles’ flow-chart, must be the second most pithy test for the question “Am I a feminist?”

So here is the quick way of working out if you’re a feminist. Put your hand in your pants.

a) Do you have a vagina? and b) Do you want to be in charge of it?

If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist.

Moran’s book is, of course, about How to be a Woman – it says so in the title. She writes for the Beyoncés and the Katy Perrys, and more particularly for the women who revere them and think that Keeping up with the Kardashians might be a pretty neat idea. She’s not offering serious “am I a feminist?” advice to academic men who understand that equitable societies are the best kind to live in.

But Moran’s rather anatomic test reinforces my concerns about whether a man can ever claim to be a feminist in the same rock-solid way a woman can. Even though I’m entirely clear on the importance of feminism and of equity.

But it does seem clear to me that the question “am I a feminist?” should be a simple one for any woman to answer, irrespective of whether they use Searles’ method or Moran’s.

Rob Brooks does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Recent Links & News: Steven Pinker on “scientism”, male joblessness, political beliefs and decisions, luxury handbags and Hugo Schwyzer

I wanted to post regular updates of great reads. Weekly. Or even monthly. I really did. But I must accept that I’m better suited to providing irregular postings.I hope you enjoy these nonetheless.

For the first two articles, I must thank Claire Lehmann who always posts interesting content. Follow her @ClairLemon

  1. Steven Pinker at his brilliant best in New Republic, calling for a truce between science and those who feel threatened by it. Science Is Not Your Enemy: An impassioned plea to neglected novelists, embattled professors, and tenure-less historians.
  2. Sarah McDonald discusses How Male Joblessness Affects Women in Regular readers will spot one of my favourite themes here. I have more to say on this, just need to find the time to write about it.
  3. How (and Why) Political Beliefs Sway Supposedly Non-Political Decisions. David Berreby at
  4. Vlad Griscevicus and Yajin Wang tie luxury items (including handbags) to sexual jealousy in women. Interesting experiment, narrow interpretation in my opinion. Again, I hope to blog about this soon.
  5. Hugo Schwyzer, gender studies and history lecturer and prolific commentator has had a rough week (h/t to Rebecca LeBard for letting me know). He’s taken a fair amount of heat in recent times, for his opinions, his self-confessed troubled history and a recent affair. He quit the internetrepeatedly, to recover mentally and mend his personal life. He gave a seemingly ill-judged interview for the New Yorker. The the internet erupted with opinions about him; some wishing him well, others notsomuch. One of the most insightful, for me, is Melissa Petro’s On Hugo Schwyzer, Personal Essay Writing & Redemption.

Dissecting Gender – Workshop at Melbourne Writer’s Festival

Rob is appearing at a workshop on Dissecting Gender as part of the 2011 Melbourne Writer’s Festival, on Sunday 28 August, 4-5pm. The other panellists are Jane McCredie and Cordelia Fine, and the session is to be moderated by Monica Dux.

The Event description says: Join Jane McCredie, Rob Brooks, Cordelia Fine and Monica Dux to consider the scientific evidence for there being differences between the male and female brain, how differences arise, how gender difference informs our culture, and whether it’s actually possible to get to the bottom of these questions.
The event is being filmed by the ABC’s Big Ideas program.
I believe I have two complementary tickets to the session, and I’m happy to give these to any Melbourne-based readers who are keen to come and be part of this event.