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What Don't We Know About Patriarchy?

Updated: Aug 23

Are you scrambling for research ideas? Below I outline some important questions, which existing research cannot answer

  1. Does the rule of law reduce brutish masculinity?

  2. Do joint families curtail alcoholism and wife-beating?

  3. Why are 23 million Indian men using opioids?

  4. Why is (South) Italy especially religious?

  5. Why is the American Southeast so patriarchal?

  6. Do male-majority workplaces push women out?

  7. Can gender quotas in male-majority workplaces reduce sexism?

  8. Did Christianity curb Norse polygamy?

  9. Why are there so few female leaders in West Africa?

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1) Does the rule of law reduce brutish masculinity?

Trust in the police is very low in North India. Might this motivate men to act “tough”, so others know not to mess with them?

Let me illustrate with examples from post-Soviet Russia and Enlightenment Scotland.


After communism, the rule of law collapsed. Living in the shadow of organised crime, working class men have learnt to project brutal dominance. A ‘real Russian muzhik’ (man) is tough, strong and patriotic. Street youths upload videos of their fights: impressing peers with aggressive physical prowess. Older men forge ties boozing and barbecuing. Fraternal capital is the lifeblood of successful commerce - for recovering debts, protecting property, settling disputes, obtaining tax exemptions and official permissions, perhaps even damaging competitors. To the extent that recent privatisation fuelled violent entrepreneurship, it may have exacerbated masculine bravado, intimate-partner violence and unequal care-giving.


In Scotland, meanwhile, a co-evolutionary process between religion, conquest, commerce and institution-buildings nurtured a more polite masculinity.

  • Highland clans were pastoral, violent, and honour-bound.

  • Protestantism was adopted by the Reformation parliament. Draconian Kirk sessions promoted marital monogamy, hard work, frugality, and temperance. Sexual infidelity jeopardised the 'godly household'. Sinners were sternly punished.

  • Enlightenment clubs in Edinburgh championed civility.

  • The judicial system clamped down on elite violence. It became illegal to issue a duelling challenge. As men gained confidence in the rule of law, they increasingly resolved grievances at court.

  • The rising commercial middle class opposed thugs, championed civility, and gained status through individual economic success (not clan membership). Aghast by violent “savages”, they wanted the rule of law for their businesses.

The Select Society decreed "strict Silence during the debate, no member shall leave during the time that another is speaking".

How can you test this hypothesis more broadly? Examine the effects of an exogenous improvement in state capacity. Canadians born in communities that were historically lawful (under the control of the Mounties), are much less aggressive, even when playing hockey!

Marriage markets also matter! We know marriage markets can promote female education, as educated men seek educated brides. Marriage markets might also reinforce brutish masculinity. In places with weak rule of law, parents may look for tough men who can protect their daughters.


“Girls [in Delhi] want gentlemen like Shah Rukh, but society forces you to need a body-builder type, a guy who looks intimidating to thugs and Romeos,’ Gold theorized.”


2) Do joint families curtail alcoholism and wife-beating?

Alcohol abuse is the single largest predictor of domestic violence in India. This strong correlation holds worldwide. Not all incidents of violence involve alcohol, but when men drink they are much more likely to inflict life-threatening violence.


Curbing alcohol consumption saves lives. South Africa’s ban reduced violence by about 20%. It led to an estimated 77 fewer homicides, 790 fewer assaults and 105 fewer rapes *per week*.


Alcohol abuse, nuclear families, and gender-based violence are all more common in South (as compared to North) India. I believe these three facts are connected. Joint families may police their sons, prevent over-consumption and thereby (indirectly) suppress gender-based violence. Joint families are four times more common in the north than the south. This indirect mechanism would explain why the most patriarchal parts of India paradoxically have less violence. To test this, you could control for joint families or measure exogenous bans on alcohol. Bear in mind however that in India these have been poorly enforced.

Women in Christian-majority developing countries are 11% more likely to have been assaulted by their partners than those in Muslim-majority countries. Does this correlation disappear when you control for alcohol abuse? If so, this would be the most important protective effect of Islam.


3) Why are 23 million Indian men using opioids?


1.14% of Indians now use heroin. This is almost four the rate of the USA (0.3%).


Has substance abuse been exacerbated by economic frustrations? Indian deaths of despair? In the United States, counties affected by trade liberalisation have more (white male) suicides. Shocks to men's relative earnings also reduce their chances of marriage.


This effect could be even stronger in India, where drugs are grown nearby and men are expected to provide single-handedly.

Government of India, 2019
India Today, 2021

4) Why is the American Southeast so patriarchal?


South-eastern states tend to have more gun violence, more intimate partner violence, higher maternal mortality, weaker abortion rights, fewer legal protections, more women in working poverty, less female representation, and more male dominance of the labour market. In South Carolina, domestic abusers are not required to give up their guns. Louisiana's gender pay gap is 69% - the same as South Korea’s (the highest in the OECD). Why is this?


  • Oil? Male (but not female) wages substantially increased after early 20th century oil discoveries.

  • Settler origins? Gender roles and attitudes are more liberal in U.S. counties that historically hosted a larger share of immigrants from countries with high female labour force participation, suffrage, and financial rights.

  • Religiosity? The gender pay gap has closed most sluggishly in states with high reported attendance at places of worship.

  • Wealthier, urbanised and Democrat-controlled states are typically more gender equal.

  • Racial diversity is associated with patriarchy. But why? It may have dampened the provision of public goods. This would explain why once of the first places to introduce universal pre-school was Portland, Oregon (overwhelmingly white). Perceived threats may have affected gun culture.

Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security 2022


5) Why is (South) Italy especially religious?


Italy is the most socially conservative country in Western Europe: with lower female employment, fewer female managers and stronger opposition to abortion.


Religiosity may be a major factor. Unlike Catholic Spain and Ireland, secular backlash has been weak. Italy remains one of the most devout countries in Western Europe; its most religious provinces are especially patriarchal. Why is this? And why is the South especially devout? Possible hypotheses include a weaker Cluniac reform movement and less Napoleonic control.

World Bank 2022
Bozzano, 2017

Religious Marriages in Italy (darker means more) (Bozzano 2017)

6) Do male-majority workplaces push women out?

Wherever men predominate, women face a gauntlet of hostile scrutiny. In male-majority undergraduate classes, men speak for longer, interrupt frequently and are much more assertive. Lone women lack influence. Even when women achieve top grades in physical sciences, the male majority rarely rate them as knowledgeable or want to study together. In entirely male municipal Italian councils, female mayors are less likely to survive their term. Anticipating low support, women are often reluctant to put themselves forward as leaders of male majority teams. In Norway and North America, male-majority workplaces hemorrhage female talent. This fact alone explains STEM’s exceptionally leaky pipeline.


In countries with low female labour market participation, many workplaces will be male-dominated. Does this suppress female labour market participation and advancement?


7) Can gender quotas in male-majority workplaces reduce sexism?


Suppose the Indian civil service introduced gender quotas. Would this reduce hostile sexism, by enabling women's strength in numbers? For more on this, see my posts on male-majority workplaces and female friendships.


8) Did Christianity curb Norse polygamy?

Norse men were once brutal raiders and rapists. Outbound violence may have been encouraged by polygny: men without wives sought to ensnare their own.


Women in contemporary polygnous societies tend to marry younger and have much older husbands. Early marriage is usually associated with less autonomy, less decision-making, and greater vulnerability to violence. When married polygnously, women are more likely to report physical and emotional abuse.


Did Norsemen's outbound violence dissipate with Christians' insistence on marital monogamy?


This is plausible. Within Africa, young men who belong to polygmous groups are quicker to resort to violence, while polygamy falls with proximity to Catholic missions [though mission location may have been endogenous, avoiding areas under Muslim rule].



9) Why are there so few female leaders in West Africa?

Nigeria's parliament is 94% male. Is this due to culture, colonialism, or ethnic divisions? For possible hypotheses, please see my blog.


If you're interested in any of these questions, do get in touch. I will happily suggest useful readings. Also check out my recommended books and papers on global gender history. This page will be continually updated with more ideas.



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