Study: The More Gender Equality, the Less Confident a Woman Feels

A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reveals some surprising findings when it comes to confidence.

The confidence gap between men and women is actually smallest in countries that rank low in gender equality (as measured by World Economic Forum‘s index of gender equality).

Researchers compared survey results from almost a million Internet users to produce the first cross-cultural study of age, gender, and self-esteem that shows that economic empowerment and emotional empowerment aren’t exactly correlated.

As it turns out (though I can’t say I’m surprised), males are the more confident sex across borders and cultures. In every country studied, men reported higher self-esteem than women. This self-esteem also seemed to improve with age.

Inflated male ego isn’t news, of course. As TIME points out, countless studies have shown that men tend to overestimate their IQ, while women often underestimate theirs. Furthermore, both sexes typically think their sons are smarter than their daughters.

What is news is that countries where a female self-esteem was closer to that of males tended to be in the developing world. When it comes to the confidence gap, there is no correlation between economic empowerment and the gender divide. There is actually a bigger gap between the sexes in Western countries.

Hong Kong, India, and Indonesia – not exactly known for their gender equality – had some of the smallest confidence gaps. On the other hand, in countries with higher gender equality like Sweden, Finland, and Norway, men were significantly more confident than women at every age.

Thailand and Turkey were the only two countries where women’s self-esteem surpassed that of the men.

The reasons behind the confidence gap aren’t clear. Though the causes weren’t investigated in the research, Bleidorn says that the smallest gender differences were in Asian countries and that a byproduct of gender equality is changing expectations for women.

“Women in Western cultures are more likely to compare themselves to men,” says Bleidorn, “whereas in Asian countries, women compare themselves to women.”

Her explanation makes sense; as opportunities open to women in developed countries, there come higher expectations. And yes, we compare ourselves to men in the workforce, especially those in our respective professions (and why wouldn’t we?)

The hope is that we’ll catch up to the guys not only in terms of income, but also in the self-esteem department.