FEMAIL reveals scientific evidence to settle the battle of the sexes

Who’s truly the weaker sex? You may be surprised, as FEMAIL reveals the scientific evidence to settle the battle of the sexes in every aspect of our lives

  • FEMAIL has revealed the science behind the new and improved battle of sexes
  • Researchers at the University of Missouri found women suffer worst hangovers
  • Women are better gardeners but aren’t so quick at building flat pack furniture 
  • Men are good sprinters but women better at endurance runs as better at pacing

For centuries, the battle lines in the war of the sexes have been clearly drawn.

Women, it was believed, had the upper hand emotionally, with more empathy and insight. Men, meanwhile, were more physically robust and better at giving directions.

But these foregone conclusions have been flipped on their head of late, as both men and women challenge the traditional boundaries of what either gender can achieve.

The once-feminine world of ballet is one example. Former prima ballerina Dame Darcey Bussell recently said male dancers are now better than the women, both physically and technically: ‘I see incredible talent with the men nowadays and, actually, the girls coming through are finding it hard to keep up with the guys.’

Meanwhile, in a range of traditionally male-dominated fields, it’s women who are increasingly taking the lead. 

Research has found women make safer pilots than men, and studies show women are more likely to survive a heart attack if treated by a female doctor. And let’s not forget that the England women’s football team is now ranked third in the world — one place higher than the men’s.

So, where do we — men and women — really stand? Here’s the science behind the new, improved battle of the sexes . . .

Men reign over flatpack furniture

Norwegian researchers found men were at least one minute faster at building flat pack furniture but a U.S. study found women were better at hammering (file picture)

A study by the University of Tromso in Norway found that, although women were more likely to read instructions for flatpack assembly furniture, men were at least one minute faster at getting the job done.

Researchers said this could be due to men’s brains being better at mentally rotating objects and imagining them in 3D.

However, when it comes to hitting the nail on the head, women have the upper hand. According to researchers at the University of Massachusetts, women are better at hammering.

To test this, men and women in the study were given targets to hammer. The men tended to use more strength, but women were better at hitting on target.

The researchers put the difference down to men thinking that they need to use brute force and women assuming they have to exercise more care.

Why women will never forget a face

Scientists have found that women look at faces for longer, possibly because they’re interested in emotions more than men are (file picture)

If you’re a woman who feels like you’re constantly having to remind your other half who they’ve just been talking to at a party, you could be right.

Scientists who tracked eye movements found women look at new faces longer than men and so memorise them better, possibly because they are more interested in reading emotions.

When it comes to recognising facial expressions of people about to lose their temper, however, men do it better.

According to a 2006 study for the journal Current Biology, while women interpret happiness, sadness, surprise and disgust more quickly, males are better at spotting anger sooner — particularly in other men.

Researchers suggested that men may have developed this skill because, in the past, they were more likely to need an early warning that another male was about to attack them.

Ladies hit harder by a hangover

Researchers at the University of Missouri found that women complained of common hangover symptoms much more severely the morning after (file picture)

When the alcohol is flowing, plenty of us could do with an inner voice that tells us when we’ve had enough. 

But there’s good news for women, according to researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University, who asked people aged 30 to 50 about their drinking habits.

They found women were better able to monitor changes to their bodies when they drank and to know when draw the line. Just as well — because women also suffer worse hangovers.

Researchers at the University of Missouri surveyed more than 1,230 students and found that women complained of common hangover symptoms — such as dehydration, tiredness, headaches, nausea and vomiting — much more severely the morning after. 

That’s because females have fewer of the enzymes needed to break down alcohol and smaller livers to process it, so their bodies had to work harder for longer. 

Psychologist Wendy Slutske, who led the research, said: ‘Women tend to weigh less and have lower percentages of body water than men do, so they should achieve higher degrees of intoxication and, presumably, more hangover per unit of alcohol.’

Green-fingered goddesses rule

Dr Nick Neave, who led the study at the University of Northumbria, said women might be better in the garden due to their history as hunter-gatherers (file picture)

Alan Titchmarsh may beg to differ, but studies show women are better gardeners. Psychologists asked 25 men and 25 women to find a selection of plants hidden among other species in garden displays. 

The women were almost 20 per cent faster and more accurate than the men.

Dr Nick Neave, who led the study at the University of Northumbria, said: ‘Women are more accurate at identifying plants and do it significantly quicker.’

He believes their superior skills date back to our history as hunter-gatherers, when it was a woman’s role to pick plants that were safe to eat.

However, it’s not all bad news for men, who will be better at finding their way to the garden centre in the first place — because a range of studies have found they are much better at orientating themselves in unfamiliar surroundings.

Scientists say this may be down to the hormone testosterone, which is more abundant in the male brain and is associated with spatial awareness, which men may historically have needed while hunting animals.

Psychologist Dr Cecilia Guariglia says: ‘Men have been reported to be quicker in developing and using maps and in spatial memory.’

You should drive — but get him to park

Women have been found to be safer drivers, but men could park quicker (file picture)

It’s long been the subject of acrimony between couples: who is better behind the wheel?

When it comes to safety, women take the crown. One study tracked more than 200 drivers at London’s notorious traffic hotspot Hyde Park Corner. They were marked on 14 different aspects of driving, from checking carefully to going too fast.

Women easily did better than men, scoring 23.6 points out of a possible 30, compared with 19.8 for men.

Men’s worst offence was aggressive tailgating. More than a quarter drove too close to other vehicles, compared with just 4 per cent of women.

However, when it comes to parking, men may be almost as good as they think they are.

Psychologists at Ruhr University in Germany asked 65 volunteers of both genders to park a large Audi in a car parking space.

They found women took up to 20 seconds longer to do so accurately in the 15ft by 6ft space.

Parallel parking showed up the biggest gender difference, with men 5 per cent better at manoeuvring the vehicle into the space.

Sharing a keyboard? Give his a quick clean

In tests of 90 offices, it was found that men have more bacteria on their workspaces (file picture)

If you’re hot-desking at work and borrowing a man’s seat, you may want to give it a wipe down.

In tests of 90 offices, it was found that men have more bacteria on their workspaces, computers and chairs than female colleagues.

According to the study in the journal PLOS One, men had 10 per cent more bacteria on these surfaces than women, possibly because males wash their hands less often.

However, it may be too soon for females to feel smug about being the cleaner sex.

In another study in 2008 for the National Academy of Sciences, women were found to have a greater number of different types of bacteria on their hands.

Microbiologists believe this could be because men tend to have more acidic skin — killing off some of the germs.

Another possible reason is that women tend to use more moisturisers and cosmetics, making their hands stickier and, therefore, more fertile breeding grounds for bugs.

FROM HEAD TO TOE, HOW WE BEAT MEN

You might think physical strength is the one area where women can’t compete. 

Not only are females an average of 6in shorter and 2 st lighter, but males have denser bones and greater muscle mass, too. But what if we were wrong? 

SARAH RAINEY looks at the myth-busting evidence that shows women are far from the weaker sex . . . 

Arms like wonder woman 

Studies of ancient bones have shown that women used to have stronger arms than today’s elite male rowers (file picture)

While it’s hard to argue that women are physically stronger than men, we’re far from complete waifs.

A fit woman can generate the same force per unit of muscle as a similarly fit man — she just has a lower muscle mass (as opposed to muscle strength).

What’s more, muscle for muscle, women may even be stronger. Comparing leg strength to lean body weight (excluding fat), a female’s legs are 5.8 per cent stronger than a male’s. 

And, in the past, we were even more powerful. Studies of ancient bones have shown that, between 5,300 BC and AD 100, women had stronger arms than today’s elite male rowers.

Protective layer of fat 

An expert on ageing said that women who are more ‘robust’ tend to outlive men by five or six years (file picture)

We may not appreciate it, but women’s higher body fat content is protective in many ways.

‘At pretty much every age in history, women seem to have survived better,’ says Professor Steven Austad, an international expert on ageing. He says women — who are more ‘robust’ — tend to outlive men by five or six years.

This may be because they have more body fat than men (around 12 per cent of our body mass, compared to just 3 per cent in men), with deep layers designed to keep both us and our babies warm.

When it comes to one-off traumatic events, such as car crashes, size is on our side, too. The average man is taller, bigger and broader than the average woman, meaning he has more cells vulnerable to damage — and his recovery is slower.

Legs built for running

Women’s shorter legs are often seen as an advantage as they mean a faster stride (file picture)

Men may be better sprinters, but women come top in endurance running — particularly ‘ultra-marathons’ of up to 100 miles.

The reasons are numerous. First, women are lighter —meaning they’re placing less stress on their leg joints, particularly during downhill stretches. 

Shorter legs are often seen as an advantage, too, as they mean a faster stride, which enables efficient use of the ‘elastic energy’ created as we run.

Women also have a larger surface-area-to-mass ratio than men, so heat dissipates better throughout their bodies — meaning they are less likely to overheat.

Thirdly, women generally burn a higher percentage of fat than men — around 75 per cent more — while running. This means that their energy is released consistently, while men are more likely to hit ‘the wall’.

And the fourth reason is that women are better at pacing. A study of 1.8 million marathon results concluded that women are better than men at maintaining a consistent speed.

Cool under pressure

In high-octane situations — such as competitive sports — women are more likely to keep their cool.

A 2017 study of more than 8,000 men’s and women’s tennis matches found that males buckled under the pressure more frequently. 

Even if women did falter in a crucial stage of a match, researchers found that their drop in performance was 50 per cent smaller than that of men. 

Though men and women rarely play competitively against one another, it vindicates the infamous ‘Battle of the Sexes’ between tennis players Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in 1973. 

After Riggs declared that a woman could never beat a man, King thrashed him in three straight sets.

The same advantage applies to other high-pressure scenarios, such as exams (girls consistently do better than boys) and job interviews (women are a third more likely to be hired).

An eye for detail

Getting a woman to chose the colour for a room might be a good idea as they are better at telling the difference between shades (file picture)

Although men win at spatial awareness, women have been found to be better at telling the difference between colours — so it may be preferable for a woman to choose the paint shade when you’re decorating, for example. 

Females are better able to tell subtle differences between shades such as ‘white’ and ‘off-white’, according to research at the City University of New York. 

Powerful lungs

A 2017 Canadian study of young female athletes found that women process oxygen faster than men and absorb it more quickly into the bloodstream. 

FEMAIL looked at the science between men and women to work out who is truly the weaker sex (file picture)

This practice — called oxygen intake — is one way of calculating aerobic fitness. The researchers, who asked participants to walk on a treadmill, found females breathed in air 30 per cent faster than males and that their muscles extracted oxygen from the blood at a higher rate.

Not only does this give them superior lung and heart health, but it means women are less likely to experience fatigue after a difficult workout.

Multi-tasking marvels

It will come as no surprise to learn that multi-tasking women are better at sports that require co-ordination and concentration.

Our dual-processing brains mean we’re more proficient in activities such as swimming and racket sports — and, if a man and woman of equal height and muscle area competed against one another, studies suggest the woman would win.

The hippocampus — the part of the brain linked with memory and emotions, is a similar size in both sexes.

But women have more connections going from left to right across the two halves, which gives us an advantage in pulling together information and making quick decisions.

We cope better with pain

Any woman who’s given birth will be well aware of this fact, but, according to a 2009 study at the University of Florida, females have a higher tolerance for pain.

Pain affects both genders differently, not only in terms of how and where we feel it, but how quickly it subsides. 

Experts agree that women recover faster from pain, seek help more readily and are less likely than men to allow chronic pain to control their lives.

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