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EDGE: How would your conclusions impact social policy?

CRONIN: How could responsible social policy not be informed by an evolutionary understanding of sex differences? All policy-making should incorporate an understanding of human nature — and that means both female and male nature. Remember that if policy-makers want to change behavior, they have to change the environment appropriately. And what's appropriate can be very different for women and for men. Darwinian theory is crucial for pointing us to those differences.

I heard an American comedian the other day taking a swipe at 'creeping neo-Darwinism'. "I don't believe in the criminal gene", he said, "but, if there was one, I think they'd find it right next to the out-of-work one". All very politically correct. But dead wrong on the differential impact of unemployment on men and women. For a woman, unemployment means loss of a job; for a man, it means loss of status. And this difference combines with other sex differences to take women and men down very different pathways once the workplace door closes on them. So, for example … A low-status man is a low-status mate; he'll have more difficulty finding a partner. And more difficulty keeping one; couples in which the wife earns more than the husband are more likely to divorce. Domestic violence stems from male sexual jealousy; low status is a potent factor for moving the psychological machinery of jealousy into high gear. And it turns out that misattributed paternity is as minimal as 1% among very high-status American males but up to 30% among unemployed, deprived, inner-city males. What's more, as in many other species, being low on the hierarchy has a demonstrable clinical impact on men's health and longevity. And, again as in other species, when the future looks inauspicious, males are more likely to take risks. If 'criminal genes' turn up next to 'unemployment genes' in men, it's because a distinctive male psychology is making the links. Anyone who really cares about unemployment and its appalling social ramifications shouldn't be sniping at evolutionary theory; they should be embracing it. It's absolutely indispensable for getting a handle on the relevant causal connections.

Sex-blind social policy isn't impartial, it isn't more fair — it's less so. Why, for example, assume that girls and boys learn in the same way? If you look, say, at maths — the academic area in which sex differences are most extreme — the boys' advantage apparently rests on their innate superiority in mechanical and 3D thinking. Now, there's some evidence that girls improve considerably if they're taught in ways that circumvent this. That's the kind of thing that a fair education policy should be concerned with. And the same goes for the law, for the workplace, for economic planning … for whatever field social policy is being devised. We're not an androgynous species. Fair policies should reflect that fact.

We're living in a rapidly changing world. There's the increase in male unemployment. There's women finally having the resources to go it alone as parents. And women finding that, as their own status rises, the pool of potential partners shrinks. There are increasing inequalities, consigning substantial proportions of men to permanently low status in a 'winner-take-all' game. How will our Stone Age minds react to these changes? What will be significant for men and for women? Does Darwinian theory have an impact on social policy? How could it not?


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