Evolution of gender differences

  • only those who reproduced were able to pass on genes
  • conclusion: because a trait exists, it must have contributed to successful reproduction
  • in the last generations humankind has changed its environment very much
  • genes influence our feelings, interests and talents, but do not determine our actions
Topic overview:
Evolu - what?
Evolutionary perspective
"Prevailed" in evolution
Evolution today
Perfect evolution

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Evolu – what?

If one of your ancestors hadn’t managed to reproduce, you wouldn’t be sitting here today and read the digitized words of Happy Jona. Only creatures that could reproduce passed on their genes to posterity. In other words, only the genes of those with reproductive success have survived. As a result, some genes have become more prevalent in the population than others, and the characteristics of species have changed over time. Evolution is the way living beings change over time1.

Natural selection

Such creatures, which are better adapted to their environment, are more likely to survive and reproduce. In comparison, creatures that are less adapted to their environment are less likely to survive and proliferate. This process is called natural selection.


Nature provides certain framework conditions and some creatures are better adapted to these than others. However, these framework conditions do not remain stable, but change constantly. For this reason, adaptivity is an important factor in evolution. It indicates the extent to which a species is able to adapt to its environment. The better and faster it can take on helpful properties and discard disturbing ones, the higher the probability that this species will survive.

Evolutionary perspective

On the following pages we consider gender differences from an „evolutionary point of view“. Basically this means that we draw a conclusion:

Because a property exists today, it must have been useful for successful reproduction. 

In the case of gender differences, we ask:

  • Is the sex difference congenital (genes) or learned (socialization)?
  • How can a different specialization of the sexes on this trait have increased the reproductive probability?
  • Why should it have prevailed over alternatives?

„Prevailed“ in evolution

On the following pages we will come across formulations such as „a behaviour has prevailed“ more frequently. By this, we do not mean that it was desirable or consciously aimed by anybody.

This is a thought-out example for illustration purposes:

A population consisted of a lazy and a busy part. Only the hard-working people washed their hands. The lazy people were a bit uncomfortable that they didn’t wash their hands, but they just didn’t feel like it at all. Later it turned out that the water caused infertility. Only people who had never washed their hands could reproduce and pass on their genes. In the following generations, the „gene of laziness“ was widespread, since only lazy people could reproduce. As a result, the population as a whole became much lazier. The population was not at all aware of their laziness, they simply were. From the point of view of evolution, „laziness“ has prevailed.

Surely you haven’t been able to explain your feelings for someone yourself. It was just in you that you felt extremely attracted to someone. There are predisposed tendencies programmed into our genes. You can notice these feelings and stay away from someone, or you can grant the feelings and act accordingly. Your behavior is entirely up to you. We are human beings and can question and control our behaviour, it is not determined. Some people find things easier or harder. Sometimes I can’t control what I feel like doing or who I’m attracted to. But I can control which people I surround myself with, which situations I get into and in the end how I behave in each individual situation.

Evolution today

In the last generations, hardly worth mentioning in comparison to the entire evolution, humankind has changed its environment very much. Industrialization changed our whole being from car and smartphone over machinery and waterworks to washing machine and lawn mower. We as a species can divide our time very differently from our ancestors, because machines have reduced or at least greatly simplified a lot of work.

The division of roles, as it probably was once essential for survival, has not only become superfluous, but even disadvantageous. Many studies show that companies and families would be more successful and happier with a balanced division of labour. Some of our congenitals help a giraffe in the savannah more than a city dweller. Have we overtaken evolution? Dr. Bischof-Köhler also asks whether the evolutionary polarization of the sexes has become useless

Perfect evolution

The current state of knowledge assumes that a division of roles between the sexes increased the chances of survival of our species. But why then wasn’t it a perfect selection, where one sex has a 100 percent of the characteristic and the other does not have it at all?

It can be speculated that the division of tasks and functions has never been so selective. In most cultures, women have taken on a variety of roles in addition to childcare, such as carrying water. Furthermore, some situations required that one sex completely took over the tasks of the other. A younger example are Trümmerfrauen who cleaned up German cities after World War 2 while men were recovering from the war. Especially within families, the sexes had to come to an arrangement. Even if there was a norm of task sharing, each family had to watch how they got along. How many fewer descendants would have made it if one person had left and another could not take over? Additionally, we see all „typical“ role functions across different cultures in reverse variations – such as dominant women or artistic men.

» next topic:

Why do we distinguish between two sexes?

Let’s look into the question of why man probably has no more or less than two sexes »

why 2 genders - Happy Jona


  1. bbc.com requested on 17.07.2019
  2. Bischof-Köhler 2006, S. 339

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