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Prosocial behavior is typically associated with helping, sharing, comforting, guiding, rescuing, and defending the individual, but can also involve supporting the collective, a group, an organization, or a nation (Eagly, 2009). Some empirical studies show that girls are perceived as more prosocial than boys (see meta-analysis by Fabes & Eisenberg, 1998; but see Eagly & Crowley, 1986). However, Eagly (2009) postulates that men and women engage in different kinds of prosocial behavior. She argues that women are more likely to engage in prosocial behaviors on a communal (i.e., relational) dimension, whereas men are more likely to engage in prosocial behaviors on an agentic (i.e., independent and strength-intensive) dimension. In line with this, research has shown that girls appear more willing to provide emotional support, whereas boys appear more willing to behave prosocially in public, where they engage in risky or chivalrous behaviors (Carlo, Hausmann, Christiansen, & Randall, 2003).
Following Social Role Theory, Eagly (2009) states that sex differences in prosocial behavior originate, in part, from unequal sex distributions in occupations: there are more women in health and early education, which are communally orientated occupations, focused on helping the individual, while there are more men in leadership positions and emergency services, which are more agentic occupations, focusing on gaining status and helping the collective (e.g., Croft, Schmader, & Block, 2015).
Cross-national comparisons show that the extent of the division of labor between sexes varies greatly between countries (e.g., International Labour Office, 2016). In line with Social Role Theory (Eagly, 2009), one would assume that cross-national differences in the proportion of men and women in communal and agentic occupations (i.e., gender-based division of labor) would correspond with cross-national differences in the kind of prosocial behavior men and women engage in. Indeed, research has shown that sex differences in prosocial behavior vary across countries, with more sex differences in prosocial behavior identified in Brazil than in the US (Carlo, Roesch, Knight, & Coller, 2001). Up to this date, however, no cross-national analysis has been conducted on whether men and women’s prosocial behavior on a communal and agentic dimension corresponds with the proportion of men and women in communal and agentic occupations.