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Outline and evaluate evolutionary
explanations of gender role
One evolutionary explanation of gender role development is the evolutionary theory. Gender roles
are the particular attitudes, interests and behaviours that members of each sex adopt. For example,
men often enjoy sports more than women.
Evolutionary psychologists claim that this gender role division appeared as an adaption to the
challenges faced by our ancestors in the environment of evolutionary adaption. Therefore the role
differences we observe are more a product of our biology than of our socialisation. For example, our
ancestors needed food and they found they could gather more food if both the men and women
hunted. However, this resulted in their offspring dying when they were left alone. Therefore, the
woman stayed at home because they could feed the offspring with their breasts. This resulted in the
stronger men hunting.
This led to a division of labour between men and women. The traditional picture is of man the hunter
and women the gatherer cum domestic goddess. This role division may have evolved because
women have spent most of their adult life either pregnant, producing milk or both. If a woman spent
time hunting, this would reduce the group's reproductive success. Therefore, women still
contributed to food by planting, milling, gathering etc. This enhanced reproductive success and
helped avoid starvation. Kuhn and Stiner (2006) suggest that this gender division of labour between
might be why Homo sapiens survived but Neanderthals didn't. They had very little to no division of
labour. Neanderthals were large and needed a high calorie intake, coming mainly from meat. With
both men and women out hunting there was little protection for the young.
Gender roles are related to reproductive success. Men look for physical attractiveness whereas
women are more likely to consider the man's resources. Buss (1989) suggested that males do well to
mate as often as possible and so therefore prefer younger, more fertile women. Females are also
concerned with this but resources and whether he can provide is also important. This is thought to be
why traditionally women spend more time on enhancing their physical attractiveness whereas men
are more concerned with their resources, for example, fast cars.
An advantage of the evolutionary theory is that there is evidence for nature as the predicted
difference in how men and women advertise themselves has been confirmed by research.
Waynforth and Dunbar(1995) reviewed personal ads and found that 44% of men sought a physically
attractive partner compared with just 22% of women. Therefore the predicted difference in what
men and women look for in a partner is reliable. This is also reflected in our gender roles, for
example, men acting as a provider to attract a partner.
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Further evidence in favour of nature is that research into the division of labour has in turn led to
research which has increased our understanding of why Homo sapiens (humans) survived but Homo
Neanderthalenis (Neanderthals) did not. For example the Neanderthal diet was based on mainly meat
which they needed to eat a lot of because of their size. Both men and women hunted which meant
that when hunting was unsuccessful the whole group would starve. It also left offspring unattended.…read more