Merche Ovejero has a degree in Psychology from the University Complutense of Madrid (UCM), Spain. She is currently a doctoral student in the Personality, Assessment and Psychological Treatment (PETRA II) department at UCM, where she is an "honorary collaborator" who advises other doctoral students in methodology and data analysis. She is the regional representative for Spain in the International Positive Psychology Students Association.
Editor’s Note: This article was first published in Positive Psychology News Daily en Español as Fortalezas humanas ¿Una cuestión de género? on July 18. We are overjoyed to have the direction of translation reversed, with this article going from Spanish to English. We also thank the author for providing the translation.
Much research has been done about character strengths, their benefits, and how to incorporate them into practice. Now it’s time to explore what is known about differences between men and women in character strengths.Men, Women, and Character Strengths
Gender differences in character strengths have been considered in some recent research. Most of these studies are based on the perspective taken by Eagly and Wood, that the origin of behavioral differences between women and men lie in either evolved dispositions or differences in the placement of women and men in the social structure.
According to the authors of Character Strengths and Virtues, Peterson and Seligman, strengths are affected by situational themes. Two situational variables that may influence strengths expression could be gender and sex roles.
Some interesting research results related to gender differences are listed below:
- In a study carried out in the UK, Alex Linley and colleagues found that men scored lower than women on interpersonal strengths (love, kindness and social intelligence) and men scored higher than women on creativity.
- In research carried out with Croatian students, Ingrid Brdar and her team found that the most characteristic strengths of women were integrity, kindness, love, gratitude, and fairness, while the most characteristic strengths of men were integrity, hope, humor, gratitude, and curiosity.
- Also in Croatia, Miljković and Rijavec found sex differences in strengths in a sample of college students. They found that men scored higher in creativity, leadership, self-control, and zest, and women scored higher in kindness, love, fairness, and appreciation of beauty.
- In Israel, Littman-Ovadia and Shiri Lavy found that women scored higher on love, appreciation of beauty, and gratitude while men scored higher on creativity.
- In Spain, Ovejero and Cardenal found significant gender role differences for some of the character strengths: kindness, love, social intelligence, fairness, gratitude, appreciation of beauty, leadership, love of learning, forgiveness, creativity, and spirituality. They found that masculinity (gender roles associated with being male) negatively correlated with these character strengths, while femininity (gender roles associated with being female) was positively correlated with them.
In a cross-cultural analysis of strengths conducted by Shimai and colleagues, Japanese and U.S. women score higher than men with the love and kindness strengths, while men scored higher than women with the bravery and creativity strengths.
Biswas-Diener analyzed three cultures (Maasai, Inughuit and U.S.) found that, although there were strong similarities among the three cultures, there were differences by gender, among other factors. The Inughuit culture valued kindness most in women and self-control most in men. In the Maasai culture, the emphasis for men is on honesty, fairness, and leadership, while the emphasis for women is on self-control. These results are closely related to the sharp division of gender roles in these cultures.Thus although character strengths are considered universal, culture including gender roles may influence the development of some strengths over others.
Are These Differences Really Important?
One very interesting aspect of research on strengths and gender is that the relationship between strengths and life satisfaction may be different for men and women.
In a Croatian sample, Brdar and colleagues found that for all people, gratitude, hope, and zest were related to life satisfaction. But in the case of women, hope had a stronger connection to life satisfaction than other strengths, while for men, other character strengths were more related to life satisfaction: teamwork, kindness, perspective, social intelligence, courage and appreciation of beauty. This suggests that cognitive strengths predict greater life satisfaction for men. The results of this research should be interpreted with caution, since most of the participants were women.Furthermore, in some Western societies, gender roles are changing and, due to this, the meaning of the strengths may vary not only by gender, but also in terms of age.
In conclusion, it is important to consider that each person has a different profile of strengths, and all character strengths have psychosocial benefits. Peterson and Seligman state that all strengths are important. Which ones need to be enhanced depends on the person.
Gender differences in character strengths should not be used to justify a “gender war”, but they can be used as a starting point for understanding the origin and development of strengths and their connections with resilience, health, and psychosocial well-being.
Biswas-Diener, R. (2006). From the Equator to the North Pole: A study of Character Strengths. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 293–310. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10902-005-3646-8. Abstract.
Brdar, I. Anić, P., & Rijavec, M. (2011). Character strengths and well-being: are there gender differences? In I. Brdar (Ed): The Human Pursuit of Well-Being: A Cultural Approach (pp.145-156). New York: Springer.
Brdar, I., & Kashdan, T.B. (2010). Character strengths and well-being in Croatia: An empirical investigation of structure and correlates. Journal of research in personality, 44, 151-154. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2009.12.001
Linley, A., Maltby, J., Wood, A.M., Joseph, S., Harrington, S., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2007). Character strengths in the United Kingdom: The VIA Inventory of Strengths. Personality and Individual Differences, 43, 341-351. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2006.12.004
Littman-Ovadia, H., & Lavy, S. (2012). Character Strengths in Israel. Hebrew adaptation of the VIA Inventory of Strengths. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 28, 41-50. d.o.i. http://dx.doi.org/10.1027/1015-5759/a000089
Miljković, D, & Rijavec, M. (2008). What makes us happy: Strengths of mind, strengths of Heart, or self-control? In M. Cindrić, V. Domović, y M. Matijević (Eds.). Pedagogy and the knowledge society (pp. 241-250). Zagreb: Učiteljski fakultet.
Ovejero, M., & Cardenal, V. (2011). Character strengths with gender perspective. A study with a Spanish sample. Second World Congress on Positive Psychology. Philadelphia, July, 23-26, 2011. Available on request to the author.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Shimai, S., Otake, K., Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2006). Convergence of character strengths in American and Japanese young adults. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 311-322. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10902-005-3647-7. Abstract.
Wood, W., & Eagly, A. M. (2002). A cross-cultural analysis of the behaviour of women and men: implications for the origins of sex differences. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 699-727. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037//0033-2909.128.5.699
A Maasai woman courtesy of William Warby
Croatian Student courtesy of isafmedia
Inughuit Woman courtesy of Nick Russill
A Maasai Elder courtesy of William Warby
Image from Empowering Gender Equality Poster courtesy of Anna Huguet