- Anger frequency and intensity does not seem to differ by gender.
- Expression of anger does seem to differ with men being more likely to express anger outwardly.
- Women suffer greater consequences than men when they express their anger outwardly.
As an anger researcher, a question I am routinely asked is: “Are men angrier than women?” To be honest, a lot of the time it’s not even framed as a question. People just tell me that they perceive men to be angrier than women. I understand where the thought comes from. On the surface, it seems right to most people. Men commit most instances of violent crime (e.g., homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault [FBI, 2019]). But, as we well know, anger and aggression are not the same thing. Anger is an emotion that can be expressed in many ways. Aggression is a behavior with an intent to harm someone or something. People often experience anger without expressing it in aggressive ways. As importantly, aggression and violence are often motivated by more than anger. People aggress because of other emotions (e.g., fear, jealousy), to maintain power over others, or simply to accomplish a goal.
The honest answer to this question, though, is: No, men are not angrier than women. Men tend to express their anger in outwardly aggressive ways more often than women do, but research shows that all genders experience anger at similar rates (NBC News-SurveyMonkey-Esquire Online Poll, 2016).
There’s a good reason why women tend to suppress their anger whereas men tend to express it outwardly, and it has to do with what happens to women who do express their anger outwardly.
I recently spoke to Dr. Christine Smith for an episode of my podcast, Psychology and Stuff: Why We Get Mad, about this very issue. Dr. Smith is a social psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay with expertise in gender, sex, and personality.
“We expect women to be nice and smiling and happy all the time,” she said, so it follows that expressing anger in an aggressive or even assertive way would violate some basic norm expectations. Indeed, this is what the research on the subject shows as well. According to a 2008 study (Brescoll & Uhlmann), women who expressed anger were perceived as less competent, lower status, and having a lower salary than both men and “unemotional” women. In this particular study, the authors showed participants recordings of job interviews with either a male or female who became emotional during the interview (either sadness or anger). Participants evaluated the target based on how much status they deserved, estimated their salary, and rated their competence.
Interestingly, participants also answered questions about the source of the anger (i.e., to what they attributed the anger). For angry men, the anger was more often attributed to external sources (e.g., the situation they were in, the people they were dealing with). For angry women, though, the anger was attributed to their personality. What’s important to note here is that in these videos, only the gender of the target was changed; not the situation. In the exact same situation and when expressing emotion in the exact same way, men were perceived as victims of frustrating circumstances while women were perceived as out of control.
Returning to Dr. Smith’s comments above about our expectations of women versus men in these situations, it seems quite clear that she’s correct and that these expectations lead to negative outcomes for women who express their anger. This is consistent with a whole body of research that finds that people (all genders) are perceived differently and suffer consequences when they behave in ways that are counter-stereotypical (often referred to as “stereotype-based backlash”). In many ways, though, I think of this as an example of how we use emotionality as a tool for oppression. When people emote in ways that differ from cultural expectations, they are shamed or punished unfairly.
Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2019). Crime Data Explorer. Retrieved from https://crime-data-explorer.app.cloud.gov/pages/home
NBC News/SurveyMonkey/Esquire Online Poll (2016). Retrieved from https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a40693/american-rage-nbc-survey/
Brescoll, V.L., & Uhlmann, E. L. (2008). Can an angry woman get ahead? Status conferral, gender, and expression of emotion in the workplace. Psychological Science, 19, 268-275.