Genetic Explanations

Chivalry – An evolutionary explanation


There are a number of psychological tests that can elucidate our moral compass i.e. establish what moral beliefs we all hold.  These tests can be applied to people from different cultures and belief systems.  From these tests we can demonstrate that mankind shares an innate moral code, independent of religious indoctrination or cultural teaching.  This moral code is hardwired in the same way as much animal behaviour is hardwired.  It is part of human nature.

Psychologists investigating how far our moral behaviour depends on the gender of the people who will be affected found that as a society we are far less willing to harm women than men. Test subjects were presented with a series of moral dilemmas. The first was based on the classic “trolley problem” where people are told that they are on a bridge above a railway line and can see a runaway trolley on course to kill five people. The only way to stop the trolley is to block its path — and the only thing big enough to do that is an overweight person leaning over the bridge. Do you push the person over, killing one to save many?

When given the choice between pushing a man or a woman overwhelmingly, by 88 per cent to 12 per cent, they went for the man. When asked why they chose the man examples of responses were ‘‘in a utilitarian situation, I value women and children over men”, “‘[pushing] a man is the moral thing to do” and “women are fragile and it would be morally wrong.”

This scientific study demonstrates an intuitive and moral protective feeling towards women based on a theoretical situation.  However, this is backed up by statistics that show that as a species we are also much more accepting of harming men in the real world.  In the UK men are the victims of 62% of violent crime.  They are also much more likely to die early and violently though accident and trauma. They account for 95% of work related deaths, 92% of motorcycle deaths and have three times the overall road traffic mortality rate as women.  Men account for 75% of suicides and are 68% of all murder victims.  And just to remind ourselves that as a society we are happy to deliberately put our young men in harm’s way, the statistics for UK military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan to May 2012 reports 582 male deaths and 8 female.

All the statistics seem to indicate that the world is a much more dangerous place for men than for women.  The lack of fuss over these statistics and the media obsession with violence against women shows that we are generally accepting of this fact.

This result is only a surprise if your starting assumption is that men and women are born with the same behavioural potential and society moulds us into different sexes.

Let’s accept the fact that we humans are an evolved species that has been built as a life support machine for our genes and to propagate them into future generations.  This process has taken 3,500,000,000 years.  Let’s also understand, like all other animals, that much of our behaviour is hardwired by our genes.  i.e. not learned.  Finally let’s understand that evolution takes a long time.  One tick of the evolutionary clock is about 250,000 years, so we are very similar to our ancestors from 30,000 years ago.  We now have an explanation for this phenomenon.

Men and women are fundamentally different, have been subject to different evolutionary pressures and are hardwired to behave in different ways to ensure survival of their genes.

Women have a pathetic ability to reproduce their genes, having only a limited number of pregnancies in a life time and generally only having one offspring at a time.  In our evolutionary past many women did not survive pregnancy and child birth. Their fertility declines sharply at 35 and falls off a cliff at 40.  Men’s ability to reproduce is limited only by finding enough willing or unwilling women to impregnate.  They are fertile for nearly all their life.  So, in evolutionary terms, women are more valuable.

An isolated population with 95 men and 5 women is unlikely to do well in the long run.  A population with 95 women and 5 men has a better chance.  Consequently men and women have been hardwired to protect women.  This also explains why men are more likely to take risks and to die in accidents and war.  We have evolved to be more willing to put men in harm’s way.

This is in the best interests of our genes.


Moral Chivalry

Further reading:

Men are the main victims of violence and violent death

Why do men commit most of the crimes?

The Behaviour of Women and Why They Worry About How They Look – an Evolutionary Perspective

Women are either bisexual or lesbian, but rarely straight.

Female Bitchiness and Unsisterly Behaviour – An Evolutionary Explanation

Why human societies dislike female sexual promiscuity – an evolutionary explanation

Why Does 50 Shades of Grey Appeal to Women?

Why do male students get more first class degrees at Oxford University than female students?

Men and Women Evolved With Conflicting Interests – Why We don’t Always Get Along


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