Sex Differences in Crying Across 37 Cultures

There, there. Please stop crying sweetie.

Posted Aug 17, 2012

Having recently lost our beloved male Belgian shepherd Amar (see my tribute to him here), I have experienced my fair share of shedding tears over the past few months. The act of crying could be construed positively or negatively depending on the context. For example, some women proclaim that they are attracted to men who are sufficiently sensitive and confident in their manhood as to shed tears at appropriate moments (e.g., while watching a heart-wrenching drama). Of course, some crying demonstrates emotional acuity but it’s a fine line before one becomes a blubbering sap. See here for the classic and hilarious Seinfeld clip where Jerry is compelled to comfort his girlfriend who cries incessantly for endless minor reasons (episode title: The Understudy).

If you were to ask people which of the two sexes is most likely to cry, most would probably answer that women are much more likely to do so. Is this true and does it hold across a wide range of cultures? In today’s post, I’d like to discuss findings from a recent study published in Cross-Cultural Research and authored by Dianne A. van Hemert, Fons J. R. van de Vijver, and Ad J. J. M. Vingerhoets wherein they explored the latter sex difference. They also investigated variables that might affect the prevalence of crying across cultures. I won’t cover this issue here but might do so in a future post.

A total of 5,715 participants (men = 2,497; women = 3,218) took part in the study. The average age was 23.4 years old (min = 16; max = 74). The participants were sampled from thirty-seven heterogeneous cultures stemming from Africa, Europe, Oceania, Asia, North America, South America, and the Caribbean region. Responses were collected on two key measures:

(1) General Tendency to Cry: a 1-10 scale with ‘1’ corresponding to hardly and ‘10’ to very easily

(2) Time Elapsed Since Last Crying Episode: a 1-7 scale with ‘1’ corresponding to less than one day ago and ‘7’ to more than a year ago

 Here are the key findings:

 (1) At the aggregate level (across all countries), women had a greater tendency to cry and were more likely to have cried in the more recent past (p < .001 for both measures).

(2) When the analyses were conducted within countries, all but three of the comparisons (out of 74, since there are 37 countries and two comparisons per country) produced the same sex effect (p < .05). The effect sizes were strong for both measures. The three comparisons that did not yield statistically significant effects were in the expected direction nonetheless. In other words, across broadly heterogeneous cultures, women are always more likely to cry and more likely to have done so in a more recent past.

I suppose that these results are not particularly surprising. Nonetheless, it struck me as a fun topic to share with the Psychology Today readership. On a related note, while writing a commissioned article for the Journal of Consumer Psychology, I recently uncovered a fascinating paper by Debra M. Zeifman on the evolutionary roots of crying (see here).

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