Baumeister concludes that this gender difference produced men who were willing to bet it all on risky ventures like discovering the New World, while women were content to stick with the status quo. He produces evidence that, although men and women may vary only slightly in their average capabilities in many areas, the bell curve is flatter for men, so the "tails" on both the negative and positive ends are greater for men. More geniuses, but more morons; more world leaders, but more homeless or incarcerated men. He believes this pattern can be explained by the effect of natural selection on the higher riskiness of male reproduction.
Myself, I wonder if you couldn't as easily argue that men, exposed to the risk of not reproducing at all, would be fiercely conservative and protective of their few opportunities, while women, virtually assured of reproducing no matter what, would be willing to throw caution to the wind and experiment. That's the problem with a lot of evolutionary biology, isn't it? It's fun to spot the patterns and try to reduce correlation to causation, but without a genetic mechanism it's hard to find a definitive answer. For instance, it's one thing to say that natural selection operated differently on men and women, and another to say that men ended up with the genes that worked well for men, while women ended up with the genes that worked well for women. In reality, of course, men pass their genes down to children of both sex, as do women. Unless you can tie a male trait to the Y-chromosome, or a female trait to the absence of the Y-chromosome, it's not easy to make a case for a genetic differentiation in the present generation on the ground of gender-based natural selection in past generations.
Baumeister's arguments may work a little better when he ties the unequal ratio of reproductive success to cultural norms rather than to supposedly innate heritable differences between men and women. He suggests that many cultural conventions make sense if you assume that only a few men can be expected to reproduce successfully, while most women can. This assumption leads a society to assume simultaneously that men should be the cannon fodder and that men should end up on top of the heap when it comes to wealth and power. As he points out, if half the men are killed and you're left with only the most successful half, you can rebuild your population fairly quickly. If half the women are killed off, you're in for a slow and dicey recovery.
At all events, I found Baumeister's talk highly entertaining, particularly when he analyzes the different areas where the sexes excel:
Research by Major and others back in the 1970s used procedures like this. A group of subjects would perform a task, and the experimenter would then say that the group had earned a certain amount of money, and it was up to one member to divide it up however he or she wanted. The person could keep all the money, but that wasn’t usually what happened. Women would divide the money equally, with an equal share for everybody. Men, in contrast, would divide it unequally, giving the biggest share of reward to whoever had done the most work.It rings true for me, anyway. I've always said I practice socialism under my own roof, and to a lesser degree within my small intimate circle, but I firmly believe competition works best for the country at large. And while I may not be an entirely conventional female in some ways, there's no doubt of my strong preference for small-scale social interaction. So the male-dominated institutional pattern of large, relative anonymous groups doesn't suit me, which is why I enjoyed practicing law in a big firm as long as I could toil away at difficult problems in small groups of like-minded professionals whom I trusted, but I hated networking and rainmaking and was perfectly awful at it.
Which is better? Neither. Both equality and equity are valid versions of fairness. But they show the different social sphere orientation. Equality is better for close relationships, when people take care of each other and reciprocate things and divide resources and opportunities equally. In contrast, equity — giving bigger rewards for bigger contributions — is more effective in large groups. I haven’t actually checked, but I’m willing to bet that if you surveyed the Fortune 500 large and successful corporations in America, you wouldn’t find a single one out of 500 that pays every employee the same salary. The more valuable workers who contribute more generally get paid more. It simply is a more effective system in large groups. The male pattern is suited for the large groups, the female pattern is best suited to intimate pairs.
Ditto for the communal-exchange difference. Women have more communal orientation, men more exchange. In psychology we tend to think of communal as a more advanced form of relationship than exchange. For example, we’d be suspicious of a couple who after ten years of marriage are still saying, “I paid the electric bill last month, now it’s your turn.” But the supposed superiority of communal relationships applies mainly to intimate relationships. At the level of large social systems, it’s the other way around. Communal (including communist) countries remain primitive and poor, whereas the rich, advanced nations have gotten where they are by means of economic exchange.