The Most Unappreciated Fact About Men: Understanding Why Men Are the Way They Are

There’s nothing more basic than sex. None of us would be here if that one lucky sperm didn’t survive against all odds to be allowed merge with an egg. The resulting union created you and me. Let’s think for a moment about that union. A healthy adult male can release between 40 million and 1.2 billion sperm cells in a single ejaculation. Since only one lucky sperm will be successful in making his way to that magical egg, there’s a good deal of competition.

There’s a joke about one sperm getting ready to compete. At the moment of ejaculation, he launches himself and the race is on, just him against millions of other competitors. Suddenly, he stops swimming and tries to turn around. He screams to the other sperm, “Go back, go back, it’s only a blow job.” From an evolutionary point of view, success is measured by sexual union that produces offspring that live long enough to produce offspring of their own.

Although the human egg is microscopic, it is large enough to house 250,000 sperm. Think of the few successful sperm who make it to the egg and face this massive, round, entity. Each one tries to get through the cell wall to make it into the interior, but only one sperm is chosen. This tells us something important about what it means to be male and why men are the way they are. There’s a lot of competition with other males and we must ultimately be chosen by a female who is willing to let us in.

Here’s another example from the animal kingdom. Imagine you’re a young stallion. Like all young males you have sex on your mind. But in the world of horses, it is the alpha male who rounds up the females and when they are in estrus has sex with all of them. Most males don’t reproduce at all, so there is a fierce competition to become the alpha male. They fight each other and take risks to be #1, because the consequences of not being #1 determine whether you are a reproductive success or failure. The females, on the other hand, can count on having babies. They don’t have to work to find a male willing to have sex with them.

There’s another thought experiment I heard from Roy Baumeister, one of the nation’s leading social scientists and author of Is There Anything Good About Men?Consider this question: What percent of our ancestors were women? It’s not a trick question, and it’s not 50%. True, about half the people who ever lived were women, but that’s not the question. We’re asking about all the people who ever lived who have a descendant living today. Or, put another way, yes, every baby has both a mother and a father, but some of those parents had multiple children.”

“Recent research using DNA analysis answered this question about two years ago.,” says Baumeister. “Today’s human population is descended from twice as many women as men. I think this difference is the single most underappreciated fact about gender. To get that kind of difference, you had to have something like, throughout the entire history of the human race, maybe 80% of women but only 40% of men reproduced.”

So, being a human male, we don’t face the same odds as stallions, where you’re either number one and reproduce with every female in the band or you’re not number one and your odds of having even one descendent are small. But compared to human females, we have to try harder.

Here’s a final thought experiment. Imagine you’re a female and you were asked to find a male who would be willing to have sex with you. You have three hours. What do you think your chances would be of being successful? Now imagine that you’re a male and your task is to find a female who would be willing to have sex with you. You have three hours. Not all women would be successful and not all men would be. But as a group, the women will be more successful than the men.

“Of all humans ever born, most women became mothers, but most men did not become fathers,” Baumeister concludes. “You wouldn’t realize this by walking through an American suburb today with its tidy couples. But it is an important fact. I consider it the single most under-appreciated fact about the differences between men and women.”

 And this difference has important implications in understanding why men and women are the way they are. Here are a few of them:

  1. More men than women are at the top of the success ladder.

It doesn’t take a social scientist to tell you that a man is more likely to be a President, Senator, Congressman, corporate CEO, than is a woman. But it isn’t primarily because of sexism and women being oppressed by more dominant males, although that is certainly a reality. Men are more often on the top because all men living today are descended from those who were successful, if not at being Alphas, at least in being willing to compete and win a female. Men are more likely to fight to be #1 because we’re descended from those who were afraid to be #2.

  1. More men than women are at the bottom of the success ladder.

It’s understandable that when women look to the top and see mostly men, many conclude that since they know they are as smart and capable as men, that if they aren’t making it to the top, there must be men that are keeping them down. But if they looked at the bottom they would see a different reality.

There are more mentally retarded boys than girls, more men than women in prisons, more men who kill themselves than women who commit suicide, more males murdered by other males than females murdered by males. There are more men at the top, but also more men at the bottom. Both nature and culture produces more men at the extremes than women.

  1. More men than women die sooner and live sicker.

We know that women, as a group, live longer than men. Less well known is that men die from and suffer with every one of the major diseases—heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.—at rates higher than those of women. It’s not surprising that men have less healthy diets, exercise less, drink more booze and consume more drugs, than women. In the world of evolutionary success, we strive to be #1, even if we kill ourselves doing it. We can do better.

  1. More men than women take risks with their health and well-being.

We’re in the middle of another football season and I see men every weekend who go out and injure themselves, sometimes causing brain damage that will only become apparent later in life. I have two grandsons whose life-long dream was to be football stars and now both have recently been signed by the New England Patriots. I worry about their safety, but also know that being a football hero has its rewards.

The minimum starting salary in the National Football League is $465,000/year and I can attest to the fact that since they were first football stars in high school they attracted many beautiful young women.

To understand why men are the way they are, we have to understand our evolutionary heritage and the reason so many of us men still fear not being good enough or successful enough to be accepted and loved by the partner of our dreams. I look forward to your comments.

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  1. Great post Jed. Lots of food for thought.

  2. Hi, little Miss Underused biology degree (not English degree) here BUT, that 80/40 percentage thing could be interpreted as 40 men inpregnated 80 women. For example, 1 man has multiple children by multiple women. For example, monogamy is a myth buy, I digress. I love men and, I am not here to male bash. I read your website, articles and books to better understand and love my son’s, my brother, my Dad and even my first ex spouse, lol (hopefully another one in the future). I just think using these percentage in the way that you did is “reaching” a bit. I love your material, this one just not so much. Just my opinion. Again, love your work and I’m really thankful that you are always so courageous in sharing yourself with us. 🙂

    • 40 men impregnating 80 women is exactly how Jed is interpreting the data, I think. That means the other 60 men are not reproducing. Which leads to excessive behaviour on their part to try to have success in reproduction, even to the point of compromising their own health. The corresponding motivation on the part of women to compromise their health so they can reproduce is not so strong, since 80% are successful already. I think that’s the line of thought here, imho.

  3. I thought the same way about the fathers impregnating many women. I actually know a guy who has around 13 children with all different women! Interesting just the same.

  4. Great post! Lots of good ideas to ponder. Men are competitive creatures for good reason. Women seem to be okay with the middle ground of achievement, and this helps explain why. Women think and live more globally and communally, I guess. I never thought about how relatively easy it is for the female sex in general to be more assured of becoming mothers, which is a thing necessary for the survival of a species not to mention a huge individual source of validation as worth to your particular group or family. Until my husband started playing in a rock band in bars and I had the chance to observe a lot of female/male behavior, I never appreciated how very difficult it must be for men to hear the word “no, thanks” when asking for something as simple as a dance. How huge must the need to find a mate be. It takes a lot of courage, I think.

  5. Reproduction may have been the original ingrained/instinctual motivation for procreation for our species. But over ages of learning that the act is pleasurable without the offspring potential has greatly affected human behavior. The oft pictured caveman dragging off a female may have been for procreation, but how many cenuries did it take before sex was motivated by pleasure alone?
    It’s even hard to believe that a dog humping a human leg still thinks he will add to his species, but I do think that bees do. Maybe domestication has something to do with it…?

  6. Eric Miller says:

    Just one (of several) important fact the article overlooks: there’s a lot of imperfection in nature. For example, in species where alpha males supposedly monopolize females, there is, in fact, a lot of female “cheating,” slinking off with beta males to mate. This is because the alpha’s control is always less than absolutely perfect–and sneakiness is kind of “fitness” in itself, every bit as much as brute physical strength.

  7. Glad you point out about more men being at the bottom of the economic ladder considering the fact that men are committing suicide due to the lost of good paying jobs send overseas and there were no jobs to replace them thanks to the American CEOs.

  8. Great post about describing the men. Really like the joke you’ve mentioned in second chapter. This is a great article about males. describing them with the examples of alpha males and beta males. Thank you for sharing this great article with us cheers.

  9. Thanks for all the insightful comments. Keep them coming.

  10. Sometimes when I’m attracted to a man, he starts off friendly, then gets angry. I think it’s because he thinks I want to seduce him. I don’t. I want a relationship. Earlier today one such man who was leading a group online pushed me away when I wanted to ask a question. He picked another woman, then TWICE when talking to her he called her by my name. I thought about that and believe he’s attracted to me as I am to him. So why did he push me away?