Sisterhood myth busted? Women are less likely to cooperate with other lower-ranked female colleagues, a new Harvard study suggests.
Researchers found that in academic circles at least, women tend to cooperate with same-sex individuals of higher or lower rank less often than men do.
The findings are based on a study of the publication records of professors working at 50 North American universities.
The findings might seem somewhat counterintuitive. People often expect that women are more cooperative than men.
But, in humans, as in our chimpanzee ancestors, it is males that more frequently band together with other males to support one another in rivalries against other groups.
"This tendency in human males extends to groups formed for reasons other than fighting," said Joyce Benenson of Harvard University.
Females, on the other hand, may be more likely to interact with smaller groups or even a single individual.
To explore these dynamics in our modern world, Benenson and her colleagues looked to academia.
Using numbers of coauthored peer-reviewed publications as an objective measure of cooperation and professorial status as a measure of rank, the researchers calculated the likelihood of co-authorship with respect to the number of available professors in the same department.
Their calculations showed no difference between men and women at all among individuals of equal rank.
But male full professors were much more likely than female full professors to coauthor publications with a same-gender assistant professor.
In other words, differences in rank didn't get in the way of cooperation amongst men in the way that they apparently did for women, researchers said.
The study was published in the Cell Press journal Current Biology.