Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Celebrating Men: Examining Helping Behavior

The different ways men and women assist others.

Key points

  • Men tend to be higher in agency, also known as masculinity or instrumentality.
  • Women tend to be higher in communion, also known as femininity or expressiveness.
  • Differences between helping behavior of men and women have decreased over time.

Men and women are both frequently subject to stereotypes. This is particularly true when we talk about respective roles in relationships—from personal to professional. One of the most relevant areas in which men and women are expected to behave differently is helping behavior. In this respect, research reveals how gender roles have been evolving.

 Werner Heiber/Pixabay
Source: Werner Heiber/Pixabay

The Honey-Do List

We joke about husbands having a “Honey-do” list, as if left to their own desires, they would spend the day lounging on the couch watching sports—or out with their buddies playing sports. Yet many husbands don’t mind “doing” things for their families. In healthy relationships, men are not “helpers” but partners who contribute to a dynamic of mutual respect. It is also true, however, that a man’s relational investment often includes providing assistance in areas in which he is uniquely capable, which includes manual labor, capitalizing on greater biological strength, height, and weight.

In fact, most men will take the initiative and have been helping others move boxes and lift heavy objects for most of their life. And not just people they know. Strangers routinely turn to men for physical assistance, such as stowing carry-on bags in the overhead compartment on a plane or carrying heavy luggage down a flight of stairs.

Women offer assistance in different ways than men. Yet, interestingly, research reveals that the helping behavior of men and women becomes more similar with age.

He Helps, She Helps

Matthew G. Nielson et al. (2017) sought to explore gender differences in helping behavior.1 Recognizing stereotypical helping behavior roles in what social scientists refer to as prosocial behavior, they sought to investigate the ways in which men and women behave differently. They found that while differences exist, men and women share more similarities than differences in the way they help others. They further found that, in most cases, gender differences tended to become less pronounced with age.

What impact does personality have? Ning Hsu et al. (2021) examined gender differences in two personality traits: agency and communion, which they recognize as gender-stereotypical traits, “explicitly designed to capture desirable attributes of men and women, respectively.”2 They found that, consistent with social role theory, men had a tendency to be more agentic, and women more communal, although these differences have also apparently been decreasing over time.

The results of Hsu et al. were consistent with social role theory, with men higher in agency, also known as masculinity or instrumentality, and women higher in communion, also known as femininity or expressiveness. They found that the gender gap in communion became smaller with increasing age, but was larger in countries where there was a greater amount of gender-based occupational segregation. They found that gender gaps in agency were larger when sampling participants as couples rather than singles, and they found that agency was decreasing over time for both men and women, although communion was declining only for women.

The Social Evolution of Stereotypes

The bottom line is that the image of a man sitting on a couch watching a ballgame while his wife cooks in the kitchen is outdated. Apparently, in response to requests from spouses to strangers, consistent with both social roles and biology, both men and women are happy to help.


1. Nielson, Matthew G., Laura Padilla-Walker, and Erin K. Holmes. 2017. “How Do Men and Women Help? Validation of a Multidimensional Measure of Prosocial Behavior.” Journal of Adolescence 56 (April): 91–106. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2017.02.006.

2. Hsu, Ning, Katie L. Badura, Daniel A. Newman, and Mary Eve P. Speach. 2021. “Gender, ‘Masculinity,’ and ‘Femininity’: A Meta-Analytic Review of Gender Differences in Agency and Communion.” Psychological Bulletin 147 (10): 987–1011. doi:10.1037/bul0000343.supp (Supplemental).

More from Wendy L. Patrick, J.D., Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today
More from Wendy L. Patrick, J.D., Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today