Social and Economic Differences

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The greater social sensitivity and empathy of females continues throughout their lifetimes, from childhood through old age. Placing more value on friendships and helping relationships in general, women develop more extensive social networks through which they give and receive assistance of a material and socio emotional nature. As discussed in Chapter 7, middle-aged and older adult women are more likely than men to maintain contact with their children and grandchildren and to provide assistance to and obtain it from them.

The social interests of women are not limited to family members and friendships but extend to the wider community and larger geographical units. Career-oriented women are more likely to enter helping professions such as child care, teaching, nursing, and social work than other fields (Eagly & Crowley, 1986). On a nonprofessional level, women are more likely than men to be called upon as caregivers. Many participate in community service, religious, and volunteer activities of various kinds. In the political sphere, their greater concern with the disadvantaged leads women to vote more often to support the Democratic platform and to vote for Democratic candidates in elections. This is particularly true when matters of great concern to them, such as abortion or child care, are at issue.

Even in old age, despite the fact that they are more likely than older men to be impoverished, the availability of a strong social network of other older women and family members assists women in confronting the problems of aging. Furthermore, unlike men, who are more likely to lose status in old age, most older women are able to maintain their position in the social hierarchy, An exception may occur, however, when all of a widow's friends and social contacts were made through her deceased husband or his friends and associates.

When serving as leaders, women's style tends to be participative and democratic rather than directive or authoritarian. Rather than dispassionately stating their opinions, asking questions, or presenting information, women are more likely than men to smile and gaze at others and to agree or express support. In contrast, men in leadership positions tend to be more directive and even autocratic. Men are less likely to become emotionally close to other people, preferring instead to maintain control by keeping the relationships fairly superficial and "letting the facts speak for themselves." Sometimes, however, men misinterpret eye contact or a smile from a woman as a promise, perceiving interpersonal warmth as a sexual come-on and friendliness as sexual interest (Abbey, 1987; Johnson, Stockdale, & Saal, 1991; Kowalski, 1993). In such cases, their responses to such false perceptions may leave men open to charges of sexual harassment.

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