Gender Differences in Social Networks Based on Prevailing Kinship Norms in the Mosuo of China.




Although cooperative social networks are considered key to human evolution, emphasis has usually been placed on the functions of men’s cooperative networks. What do women’s networks look like? Do they differ from men’s networks and what does this suggest about evolutionarily inherited gender differences in reproductive and social strategies? In this paper, we test the ‘universal gender differences’ hypothesis positing gender-specific network structures against the ‘gender reversal’ hypothesis that posits that women’s networks look more ‘masculine’ under matriliny. Specifically, we ask whether men’s friendship networks are always larger than women’s networks and we investigate measures of centrality by gender and descent system. To do so, we use tools from social network analysis and data on men’s and women’s friendship ties in matrilineal and patrilineal Mosuo communities. In tentative support of the gender reversal hypothesis, we find that women’s friendship networks in matriliny are relatively large. Measures of centrality and generalized linear models otherwise reveal greater differences between communities than between men and women. The data and analyses we present are primarily descriptive given limitations of sample size and sampling strategy. Nonetheless, our results provide support for the flexible application of social relationships across genders and clearly challenge the predominant narrative of universal gender differences across space and time.

Document Type


Publication Date


Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2021, MDPI.