What is it about?

Gender inequality measures how adverse is the environment for women in a specific country. We here explored if the differences in the brains of healthy adult men and women could be associated with the level of gender inequality in 29 different countries. We found a significant association between gender inequality and the differences in cortical thickness between men and women in the right hemisphere. This meant that there were no differences in cortical thickness between the sexes in gender equal countries, and these differences only appeared with higher levels of inequality. This was due to a thinning of the women's cortical gray matter, and particularly affecting regions that are known to be abnormal in stress-related brain disorders such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Why is it important?

Our findings are important since they provide evidence of a potential damaging effect of growing up in a gender unequal country in the brains of women. These biological markers could also help monitor or design interventions to improve gender equality, such as the most critical timing in which they can affect the brain.


I believe this article is important since it will contribute to the longstanding discussion about gender roles, particularly considering how historically the different "nature" of women has been used as an argument to justify different rights. We here show that these natural or biological dimensions are in reality socially constructed by the environment. I hope it will also help highlight the importance of dealing with gender inequality. In many countries the severity of an act of violence towards another person is judged upon the visible (or medically proven) damage cause to the other, such as a fracture. Similarly, the brain changes we observed here associated to gender inequality should help us as a society to acknowledge its damage and the urgent need to address it.

Nicolas Crossley
Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Country-level gender inequality is associated with structural differences in the brains of women and men, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, May 2023, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2218782120.
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