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Is narcissism more common in males or females?

Narcissism, which is characterized by grandiosity, pride, egotism, and a lack of empathy, has been a point of debate between whether it is more prevalent in men or women. Research over the years has gone back and forth, with some studies finding higher rates in men, and others finding no gender differences. Here we will analyze some of the key research on gender differences in narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder.

The Origins and Definition of Narcissism

The term narcissism originated from the Greek myth of Narcissus, a man who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. The concept was later adopted in psychology by Sigmund Freud, who saw narcissism as a natural part of childhood development. Freud believed narcissism allowed the child to divert libidinal energy from the outside world to the self in order to promote inner growth and stability.

In modern psychology, narcissism refers to an inflated view of the self, accompanied by feelings of superiority and a lack of empathy. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines narcissistic personality disorder as a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning in early adulthood.

Early Research Found Higher Narcissism in Men

Some of the earliest research on narcissism in the late 1970s and 80s did find evidence of higher levels of trait narcissism among men compared to women. In a seminal paper in 1979, Theodore Millon identified what he believed to be four key elements of narcissism: exploiting others, entitlement, superiority, and self-importance. Millon argued that narcissism was more common in males. Other early work by psychologists including Otto Kernberg and Heinz Kohut also pointed to narcissism being a predominantly male phenomenon.

This early view of narcissism as a masculine trait was likely influenced by the fact that more men tend to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. Estimates suggest 75-80% of diagnosed cases are men. However, many experts argue this may be due to bias in diagnosis rather than actual differences in prevalence between genders.

New Measures Find No Significant Gender Differences

In the 1990s, new measurement tools for narcissism as a personality trait rather than a clinical disorder began to emerge. These included the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) developed by Robert Raskin and Howard Terry, which quickly became the most widely used measure of narcissism in social psychology research.

In contrast to earlier clinical observations, these new measures found minimal differences between men and women. In a meta-analysis published in 1997, Foster and colleagues analyzed data from over 20,000 participants across 15 studies using the NPI. They concluded there was essentially no gender difference in levels of narcissism as a personality trait when measured with the NPI.

The NPI continues to be a widely used measure of narcissism, though some experts argue it better captures grandiose exhibitionism than the full spectrum of narcissistic tendencies.

The Rise of “Female Narcissism”

While traditional measures like the NPI did not find gender differences in narcissism, there was a growing recognition in the 2000s that narcissism can manifest differently in men and women. Some theorists began to identify a “female narcissist” – characterized not by grandiosity but by a sense of selfishness, manipulation, and demand for attention.

Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell argued that narcissism was on the rise among young women based on an analysis of NPI scores between 1979 and 2006. They found that narcissism scores increased over time for both genders, but showed a steeper incline for young women.

Other experts including psychologist Ramani Durvasula identified female narcissists as placing high value on superficial qualities like beauty and status rather than overt grandiosity. This “covert” narcissism was seen as more common among women by some theorists.

Gender Differences in Narcissism Subtypes

As research has continued, there is growing recognition that narcissism is multidimensional, encompassing different behaviors and traits. This has led to an understanding that gender differences may depend on the specific facet or subtype of narcissism being measured.

In a meta-analysis published in 2015, Grijalva and colleagues analyzed differences between men and women across three narcissism facets: leadership/authority, grandiose/exhibitionism, and entitlement. They found men scored significantly higher in the leadership/authority and grandiose/exhibitionism facets. However, men and women did not differ significantly in entitlement.

Other studies have similarly found men score higher in the grandiose/exhibitionistic aspects of narcissism, while gender differences are less consistent in the entitled and manipulative aspects. There is still debate around covert narcissism being more common in women versus men.

Personality Traits Underlying Narcissism

Researchers have also explored gender differences in the basic personality traits underlying narcissistic tendencies. Most experts agree that narcissism is tied to low agreeableness and high extraversion. However, some research suggests men and women may arrive at narcissism through slightly different pathways.

In a study published in 2011 in the Journal of Research in Personality, Rebecca Schwartz and colleagues found that the link between extraversion and narcissism was stronger in men. On the other hand, the association between disagreeableness and narcissism was stronger among women in the study. This suggests gender differences in the interplay between personality traits and narcissism.

Cultural Context May Impact Gender Expression

Many psychologists argue that cultural context plays an important role in how narcissism is expressed across genders. Men may express narcissism through authority-seeking behaviors, while women show it via beauty and attraction, based on social norms and expectations.

Supporting this view, a cross-cultural study in 2018 found that gender differences in narcissism were less pronounced in cultures with greater gender equality. This points to socialization and culture shaping how narcissistic tendencies manifest in men versus women.


In summary, research on gender differences in narcissism has gone through many evolutions. Early clinical observations and diagnosis suggested narcissism was more common in men. But newer measurement tools found men and women exhibit similar overall levels of narcissism as a personality trait.

There is growing recognition that narcissism has different facets and men and women may exhibit them to different degrees. Men tend to score higher on traits like grandiosity and authority-seeking, while gender differences in entitlement and manipulation are less clear.

Personality differences may also underlie narcissistic tendencies in gender-specific ways. And cultural context likely shapes how narcissism is expressed by gender, through social norms and expectations.

While narcissism was once viewed as a predominantly male trait, most experts today see it as equally common across genders. Gender differences likely depend on the specific subtype and expression of narcissism, as well as social and cultural factors influencing its manifestation.


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