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3 reasons to favour females over males for qualitative research

January 7th, 2022

Are women really the “fairer” sex? According to studies in personality psychology, females are indeed both more trustworthy (1) and more compassionate (2) than males. Not only this, but recent research based on a survey with over 300,000 people in the UK (3) reveals three other specific traits which suggest females may overall be better qualitative research participants than males.

Below I explain why the more typically female traits of emotionality, modesty and anxiety may be conducive to better qualitative research outcomes:

1. EMOTIONALITY: in a recent study, the self-reported difference for emotionality – the degree to which an individual experiences and expresses emotions - between females and males was the highest of all 30 traits measured. Females scored significantly higher on average (3). In a number of research topics, a greater overall likelihood to express emotions to researchers will be valuable. In addition, a greater likelihood to experience emotions makes females better equipped for certain types of research, such as for example helping to create persuasive communications.

2. MODESTY: less convincingly but still highly statistically significant, females were also found to be more likely than males to be modest (3). In practice this means, overall, females are less likely to boast about themselves (particularly useful for maintaining harmony in a group scenario) and more likely to provide humble, grounded, unpretentious research responses.

3. ANXIETY: finally, females were found, on average, to be more anxious than males (3) – with again, the difference being statistically significant. Anxiety correlates highly with compliance (4), suggesting that females may be both more likely than males to fully engage and participate in qualitative research – and more likely to show up in the first place.

Personality insights can also provide very useful context in the analysis and interpretation of qualitative (and quantitative) research findings. For example, females may be perceived to be more emotionally engaged than males with a particular concept being tested in qualitative research. However, this “insight” may in fact turn out to be less to do with specific aspects of the concept – and more down to simple trait differences.

Chris Harvey
Founder, Activate Research

1. Dollar, D., Fisman, R., & Gatti, R. (2001). Are women really the “fairer” sex? Corruption in women and government. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 46, 423-429.
3. Kajonius, P.J., & Johnson, J. (2018). Sex differences in 30 facets of the five factor model of personality in the large public (N = 320, 108). Personality & Individual Differences, 129, 126-130.
4. Gudjonsson, G.H., Sigurdsson, J.F., & Brynjolfsdottir, B. (2002). The relationship of compliance with anxiety, self-esteem, paranoid thinking and anger. Psychology Crime and Law, 8.