Country-level gender inequality is associated with structural differences in the brains of women and men

André Zugman, Luz María Alliende, Vicente Medel, Richard A.I. Bethlehem, Jakob Seidlitz, Grace Ringlein, Celso Arango, Aurina Arnatkevičiūtė, Laila Asmal, Mark Bellgrove, Vivek Benegal, Miquel Bernardo, Pablo Billeke, Jorge Bosch-Bayard, Rodrigo Bressan, Geraldo F. Busatto, Mariana N. Castro, Tiffany Chaim-Avancini, Albert Compte, Monise CostanziLeticia Czepielewski, Paola Dazzan, Camilo de la Fuente-Sandoval, Marta Di Forti, Covadonga M. Díaz-Caneja, Ana María Díaz-Zuluaga, Stefan Du Plessis, Fabio L.S. Duran, Sol Fittipaldi, Alex Fornito, Nelson B. Freimer, Ary Gadelha, Clarissa S. Gama, Ranjini Garani, Clemente Garcia-Rizo, Cecilia Gonzalez Campo, Alfonso Gonzalez-Valderrama, Salvador Guinjoan, Bharath Holla, Agustín Ibañez, Andrea Jackowski, Pablo Leon-Ortiz, Christine Lochner, Carlos López-Jaramillo, Hilmar Luckhoff, Raffael Massuda, Philip McGuire, Daniza Ivanovic, Jun Miyata, Romina Mizrahi, Robin Murray, Aysegul Ozerdem, Pedro M. Pan, Mara Parellada, Lebogan Phahladira, Juan P. Ramirez-Mahaluf, Ramiro Reckziegel, Tiago Reis Marques, Francisco Reyes-Madrigal, Annerine Roos, Pedro Rosa, Giovanni Salum, Freda Scheffler, Gunter Schumann, Mauricio Serpa, Dan J. Stein, Angeles Tepper, Jeggan Tiego, Tsukasa Ueno, Juan Undurraga, Eduardo A. Undurraga, Pedro Valdes-Sosa, Isabel Valli, Mirta Villarreal, Toby T. Winton-Brown, Nefize Yalin, Francisco Zamorano, Marcus V. Zanetti, C. Veda, Anderson M. Winkler, Daniel S. Pine, Sara Evans-Lacko, Nicolas A. Crossley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations

Abstract

Gender inequality across the world has been associated with a higher risk to mental health problems and lower academic achievement in women compared to men. We also know that the brain is shaped by nurturing and adverse socio-environmental experiences. Therefore, unequal exposure to harsher conditions for women compared to men in gender-unequal countries might be reflected in differences in their brain structure, and this could be the neural mechanism partly explaining women’s worse outcomes in gender-unequal countries. We examined this through a random-effects meta-analysis on cortical thickness and surface area differences between adult healthy men and women, including a meta-regression in which country-level gender inequality acted as an explanatory variable for the observed differences. A total of 139 samples from 29 different countries, totaling 7,876 MRI scans, were included. Thickness of the right hemisphere, and particularly the right caudal anterior cingulate, right medial orbitofrontal, and left lateral occipital cortex, presented no differences or even thicker regional cortices in women compared to men in gender-equal countries, reversing to thinner cortices in countries with greater gender inequality. These results point to the potentially hazardous effect of gender inequality on women’s brains and provide initial evidence for neuroscience-informed policies for gender equality.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2218782120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume120
Issue number20
DOIs
StatePublished - 16 May 2023

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