Feel Bashful? Don't. Because Dudes NEVER Feel Discomfort
This article was originally seen in Cosmo Magazine.
It was writer/all-around badass Sarah Hagi who first uttered the words, "Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man," but the observation isn't just snark; two decades' worth of research have confirmed that men have higher self-esteem than women. (I know, shocking.) Just one problem: "Virtually all of these studies used samples from Western, educated, industrialized, wealthy nations, especially North America," Wiebke Bleidorn, PhD, a psychologist at the University of California, Davis, told me. So Bleidorn set out to discover if the trend would hold up across countries with vastly different backgrounds, histories, and cultural norms.
It took her and her seven co-researchers eight years to collect and analyze the data, and another year to write their study, which was released in the current issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Their answer: Yes, indeed, the confidence gap holds up. The team analyzed data from more than 985,000 men and women spanning 48 countries, from Bolivia to South Korea, the United Arab Emirates to Sweden, asking them to rate the phrase: "I see myself as someone who has high self-esteem" on a 5-point scale to gauge their self-reported confidence. They found that across the board, men have higher self-esteem than the female population.
"We were really surprised by the remarkable degree of similarity across cultures," Bleidorn says. "In nearly all cultures, men have higher self-esteem. But the difference lies in the magnitude of the gap." In Western, industrialized countries (such as the good ol' US of A), the gap is more pronounced than in non-Western, developing countries. That's right: The degree to which men think they're God's gift to creation and women secretly suspect they suck is shaped by culture.
Bleidorn's research didn't set out to explain these findings, but she has some theories. As for that universal confidence gap, there may be a genetic or biological basis for self-esteem that holds back the fairer sex. (I know, unfair.) "Most personality traits have a genetic basis, so there's reason to assume it might be at least partly genetically driven," she says. "But you don't measure people's physiology to get their self-esteem — you just ask them. So we don't know."
And as for the huge confidence disparity we see in our own country? "I can speculate that in Western societies, women are more likely to compare themselves to men," Bleidorn says. "Men tend to have higher-status positions and higher salaries, for example, so the comparison is less favorable for women."
Not the case in every nation, Bleidorn says: "In Asian countries, we know that people are more likely to compare themselves to their own gender." In other words, women measure themselves against other women and men do the same against other men, and both sexes settle on self-esteem averages in the same ballpark.
In egalitarian countries like ours, though, we're literally competing for the same jobs/promotions/projects as men. Sure, successful female CEOs exist — but they make up all of 4.2 percent of such positions at S&P 500 companies. "On average, women still don't have as much power as men, and yet they have access to these positions and opportunities," Bleidorn says. "That might partly explain the gap." (If you're curious about the confidence gaps her team found in all 48 countries, check out their cool interactive map.)
Still, we're doing better self-esteem-wise than women in India or Egypt, right? Bleidorn says there's just no way to say. "Comparing personality aspects across cultures is very complex," she says. For example, unlike America, Japanese culture doesn't totally revere individual self-confidence. That means an American with middling self-esteem on U.S. soil would look like a Kanye-level jackass in Japan — it's apples and oranges. "It's a well-known fact that [comparing self-esteem across cultures] is not something you do in academia," Bleidorn laughs. "If you decided to publish that, many scholars would say, 'Wait a second, you can't do that.'"
Funny: Kind of reminds me of what some mansplaining dudes spit at women every day. Lord, grant me the wisdom to know the self-esteem gap is real and that it's riding on bullshit sexist norms.
H/T Cosmo Magazine