Research Topic

Sex and Gender Effects on Power, Status, Dominance, and Leadership – An Interdisciplinary Look at Human and Other Mammalian Societies

About this Research Topic

Unequal power and status between the sexes usually translates into one sex monopolizing valuable resources and exercising control at the expense of the other. These inequalities not only have negative consequences for the fitness and wellbeing of the underpowered sex but also hinder the path to peaceful and ...

Unequal power and status between the sexes usually translates into one sex monopolizing valuable resources and exercising control at the expense of the other. These inequalities not only have negative consequences for the fitness and wellbeing of the underpowered sex but also hinder the path to peaceful and prosperous societies. Intersexual power refers to an asymmetry in the degree of control that one sex exerts over the other. It can arise, for example, from sex differences in social dominance (i.e., imposed by threat or force), leverage (i.e., conferred by the possession of a resource that cannot be taken by force such as knowledge or fertilizable eggs), motivation, and (in humans in particular) social norms and privileged positions in society.

In most mammals, including humans, males are larger than females and thus often considered dominant over females. But recent theories in behavioral ecology and psychology argue that the relative power of the sexes is more balanced and flexible than was long thought, and depends on a number of ecological, life-history, and social factors as well as, in humans, on cultural norms and institutional policies.

Research on these issues conducted by natural scientists (e.g., ecologists, biologists) and social scientists (e.g., psychologists, sociologists) has progressed separately with little cross-disciplinary exchange.

In non-human mammals, so far empirical investigations on the evolutionary origins and dynamics of inter-sexual power have been relatively scarce and have largely focused on a few female-dominant taxa, such as bonobos, lemurs, and spotted hyenas. However, recent studies have shown that male dominance is not always the rule in other non-human societies either. Filling the gaps in our understanding of the struggle for power between the sexes requires studying male-female social relationships across many species.

In the social sciences, much research on the effects of sex or gender on power, status, dominance and leadership has been conducted, but many questions remain. For example, we still do not understand well the circumstances under which women advance to powerful positions in organizations or society, or when their authority as high-level leaders is accepted versus contested. We also lack research that elucidates the contextual factors that either promote or hinder women’s choices to strive for positions of dominance or power.

Thus, there is a need for interdisciplinary studies that bring together research in behavioral ecology and psychology regarding the drivers of gender inequalities. Much can be learned by social scientists focused on human behavior by turning to work by natural scientists (e.g., about contextual factors that favor the rise of female leadership, the origin and development of sex or gender differences). Likewise, natural scientists can likely benefit from the knowledge generated by social scientists (e.g., considering how human culture and norms of dominance and power may apply to animal social learning). Therefore, in the present Research Topic, we attempt to build and expand an interdisciplinary scope by covering studies of many social mammals including humans, and explore issues related to inter sexual power, status, dominance, and leadership in relation to any aspect of morphology, life history, the social and mating system, phylogenetic history, as well as social structures and cultural norms, some of which are specific to human societies (matrilineal vs. patrilineal society, socialization, institutional policies).

We invite original empirical and modeling papers, reviews/theory papers, experiments, field studies, and other forms of scientific communication on sex/gender and power, status, dominance, and leadership, which may include (but are not limited to):

1. The determinants of power, status, dominance, and leadership attainment of females versus males across species, including (but not limited to): sexual dimorphism, social organization, social structure and mating system, intensity and forms of aggression and conflicts, the self-reinforcing effects of winning and losing conflicts, sex and gender differences in motivation, leverage, social support, life history, sexual conflict, and economic and institutional policies, norms, stereotypes, and biases.
Relatedly, determinants and contextual factors influencing women’s choices to strive for positions of dominance, status, power or leadership. In the case of animal societies, determinants and contextual factors associated with greater female versus male dominance.

2. The various benefits (evolutionary, ecological, social, and possibly others) of gender equality in human societies or female power in animal societies (e.g., protection against males in terms of safety for their offspring, freedom of choosing a mating partner, priority of access to food, political leadership, income and power at work)

3. Psychological, social, or organizational factors that hinder or promote women’s access to social status and positions of power (e.g., gender-biased evaluations and decisions). Relatedly, the effects of social and political policies for increasing gender equality in humans.

4. Evaluations of women and men in powerful societal positions; performance or well-being effects of female versus male leadership, or how female dominance behavior differs from male dominance behavior in animals, and how it affects evolutionary fitness.

5. The historical influence of gender biases on the part of researchers for knowledge on intersexual power in non-human and human societies. For example, discussions have been raised over how the gender of the researcher shapes the research agenda and extant knowledge in a given area of work.

Authors are not expected to focus on both human and animal societies in a given submission (although such a comparative focus would, of course, be very welcome). Rather, by including papers from different disciplines with different foci, we hope that the special issue will become more than a sum of its parts. We hope that the special issue will contribute to an interdisciplinary exchange and nudge researchers to take a look at papers beyond their usual scope, with different approaches, methods, or theories. In this way, we hope for researchers to consider new lenses and ideas contributing to the advancement of our understanding of sex, gender, and dominance in both human and non-human societies.


Keywords: gender biases related to dominance, status, power and leadership, sex and gender differences in power and leadership, intersexual dominance, sexual conflict and coercion, gender equality policies


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

23 January 2022 Manuscript
31 May 2022 Manuscript Extension

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Submission Deadlines

23 January 2022 Manuscript
31 May 2022 Manuscript Extension

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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