Evolutionary View on Gender Cooperation


  • ranking through dominance strategy
  • ranking structures are long-term and conflict-reducing
  • friendships have functional character


  • ranking through validity hierarchy
  • very close friendships
  • high rank is stressful
Overview of topics:
Rank structures

Rank structures

Ranking structures have a conflict-reducing effect. Highest-ranking members get privileges and their will, while lower-rankings subordinate. This is how the group holds together. Ranking structures play a greater role for boys, who are more oriented towards hierarchical structures.

Ranking among boys

Boy groups are usually somewhat bigger and consist of 4 – 6 or more group members on average. A ranking structure is established within a few days of meeting and often lasts for many years, throughout school for example. In addition, pure boy groups largely agree in their assessment of the ranking structure, but tend to overestimate their own position. After the ranking structure has been found, the number of arguments decreases. One boy gets his will and the others don’t, that’s it. The cooperation of the others to willingly subordinate themselves is an essential core for the cohesion of the group.

Even young boys have a penchant for brawls, which seem to be a kind of first test of strength as an exercise1. Later, physical altercations, verbal disputes, ridicule and threats are popular means. According to the egoistic dominance all of them are power-related.

Charlsworth & Dzur 1987 (according to Bischof-Köhler 2006) observed in their experiment boys and a girls group playing with a machine designed for two participants. While the highest-ranking girl always remained involved in one of the two positions, the highest-ranking boy let others play as well. The mood among the boys also remained good. They don´t get angry with and hold a grudge against each other.

Ranking among boys and girls

Boys also sham attack girls and threaten them. They behave however somewhat more restrained than towards other boys. The attitude of retreat on the part of girls is most pronounced at the youngest age, whereas older girls learn to defend themselves brachially. When asked why girls are less likely to engage in physical conflict, the argument often arises that they would lose to boys, but several points speak against that logic:

girls …

  1. … and boys are equally strong until puberty
  2. … at a young age cannot have had negative experiences yet
  3. … also show significantly less violence towards girls

More obvious is that the motivational basis of girls is different from that of boys. They are less interested in measuring forces and ranking conflicts and more in communication and relationships.

High ranking girls corresponded in a mixed group to middle ranking boys. That came out in a study in which ranking height was measured by how much each member was looked at2. The causes for the attention I child got, included initiative, talent for organizing, aggressiveness and helpfulness. Girls scored particularly well in organizing. In conflict situations, girls were more likely to give in and not even engage in physical conflict. Instead, they sulked and threatened to break off contact, which often had the hoped-for appeasing effect on the attacker.

Ranking among girls

Girls show less agreement in the perceived ranking structure within their group, but it is constantly changing anyway. Also, girls tend to travel in small groups – often only in pairs with their best friend, sometimes in groups of three.

The criteria for determining a rank structure are more about being loved and admired. At the same time, girls discuss a lot which gives opens opportunities for a tense atmosphere.

In anubis baboons researchers observed that female´s ranking is linked to stress. Some of the high ranked females got, as expected, their first young earlier than other females. In addition, more offspring followed at closer intervals and showed a higher survival rate. In other high ranked females, however, the opposite was the case. They were late sexually mature, less often pregnant and miscarried more often3. One possible explanation is that the competition associated with rank height causes high stress in females, which in turn affects their health. So maybe the urge for rank height has experienced a considerable selective counter-effect in females.


A motivation behind friendship is autonomy and the detachment from one’s parents. Since children can’t do this alone, peers are especially important. One study found differences in the gender´s tendencies how friends come together4.


Girls typically have very strong, close friendships of two, sometimes three, in which you tell each other anything and do everything together. These friendships have a very exclusive character (loyalty). At the age of eight, most girls have a best friend, with whom they already have long, intimate conversations about personally important events in their lives. Between the ages of eleven and 13, the focus lies on joint activities. Later, they are soul friendships in which one gives and expects sympathy, understanding and empathy. Through the exchange of intimate details, the girlfriends carry a certain responsibility and obligation.


Boys also have twosome friendships, but are much more open about involving third parties or similar relationships in other contexts. Jealousy is not an issue. Often, groups of up to seven members come together. Boys hardly know what to talk about. In addition, empathy and sympathy hardly play a role. These are rather special-purpose associations that are about experiencing something and accomplishing tasks together. Friends tend to play down each other’s problems.

Boys expect help from their friends when they put themselves in an bad or awkward situation. At the same time, however, they have much less sense of obligation. Conflicts concern property, choice of leisure activities and competition for girls.

In adolescence, the need for intimacy and compassion for emotional concerns as well as the desire to feel understood grow. But boys prefer to talk to girls rather than other boys.

» next topic:

Safety Management

We have learned that friends are there to break away from parents together. What about the gender´s safety management? What has prevailed and why?

safety-management - Happy Jona


  1. Bischof-Köhler 2006, p. 130
  2. Hold 1977
  3. Packer et al., 1995 according to Bischof-Köhler 2006, p. 134
  4. Omark & Edelmann 1976; Maccoby & Jacklin 1974 according to Bischof-Köhler 2006, p. 312

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