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Are women more ethical than men?

The last “philosophies” magazine in French (who else would have a successful magazine about that?), asks the question “Are women more ethical than men?”. Great question and before I can get my hands on the magazine, I was already was able to follow a debate on ARTE about the topic.

First, the statistics: across the world, men make up 90 to 98% of prison population. Violent crimes are in large majority perpetrated by men. Women are in majority on the side of victims. Most theories explain this as mainly the result of the physical advantage men have over women, while women being more maternal and life givers tend to protect life.

When Neurobiological studies ask from the participants to make an ethical choice, results show that men and women base their choices on different premises. Simply put, men tend to favour justice and fairness when women favour empathy. Now if only both could be combined we would certainly have a better justice system. However, behavioral studies among which the famous Milgram study on obedience have shown that when in a position of power or pressure, the gender difference ceases to exist.

Some years ago I decided to do a study of women entrepreneurs in Bosnia and interviewed quite a number of business women here. Of course, this being Bosnia, I was shown great hospitality and warmth by all and I soon became friends with some of them. This allowed me to not only hear what they thought but I was also able to see them in action. All but one had a very fluid conception of ethics in business. Basically, they wanted fairness and equality applied to them but when it came to the way they reported to the tax office or were treating their subordinates that was a different story. I was highly disappointed  by the whole study because I had nothing positive to write about (the only one with true practice of ethical values left the country!) even more because I became close to these women and turned into cartoon drawings so I could at least laugh at myself.

I remember the big boss of the Institute where I did brain research being very proud of an article he had written entitled  “The soul is not in the brain”.  I have to say I found it hilarious at the time because it reminded me of the story of the guy looking for his keys under a lamp-post. When someone wanting to help him asked him where he had lost them he said “over there”. “So why are you looking here?” the passer-by asked. “Because here there is light, duh” said the first man.  Coming back to the topic,  I highly suspect that even though ethical choices start with critical thinking, so how we use our brains, it highly relies on our ethical sense, or how we use our souls. Which is why sometimes we make decisions for which we are not able to articulate a sound reason. Because at that moment, brain and soul do not align. Some call it “gut feeling”, some intuition.  And even though men and women’s brains are different, souls, being part of the spiritual realm have no gender. At the time of reckoning, we are stripped bare of everything but the strict minimum.


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