Women are more likely than men to say they’re a people-pleaser, and many dislike being seen as one

Jamie BallardData Journalist
August 22, 2022, 9:50 PM GMT+0

A recent article in the Washington Post explored “people-pleasing” behaviors and how they affect people. In the article, relationship expert Natalie Lue is quoted describing people-pleasing as “when we suppress and repress our own needs, desires, expectations, feelings and opinions to put others ahead of ourselves so that we can gain attention, affection, validation, approval and love. Or we do it to avoid conflict, criticism, additional stress, disappointments, loss, rejection and … abandonment.”

A recent YouGov survey of 1,000 U.S. adult citizens asked Americans whether they might be people-pleasers and, if so, how they felt about it.

About half (49%) of Americans say they would self-identify as people-pleasers, including 14% who said they “definitely would.” Women (56%) are more likely than men (42%) to say they would describe themselves this way.

About half (47%) of American adults believe that other people in their life would definitely or probably describe them as a people-pleaser. Among women, 51% believe others see them this way, and 42% of men say the same.

Among Americans who would describe themselves as a people-pleaser, 76% also say others would definitely or probably describe them this way.

Although just half of American adults consider themselves people-pleasers, nearly everyone says they exhibit at least one of nine traits included in the poll that are commonly associated with people-pleasing. Women are largely more likely than men to identify with the people-pleasing traits in this survey, with a few exceptions.

Overall, 92% of Americans say they do at least one of the nine people-pleasing behaviors polled about somewhat or very often, and 4% say they often do all nine. Just 52% who often do at least one self-identify as a people-pleaser.

Some of the people-pleasing behaviors are particularly common, more often in women than in men. Two-thirds of Americans — including 70% of women and 63% of men — say they often go to great lengths to avoid conflict. A similar share (64%) say they often put other people’s needs first at the expense of their own. Women (68%) are more likely than men (61%) to say they often do this. About half of Americans (52%) say they often feel as if they can’t say no when someone asks for something. Women are more likely than men to experience this, by 55% to 49%.

One of the biggest gender gaps is on the topic of how frequently Americans say they feel responsible for how other people feel. While about one-third of men (35%) say they often experience this, close to half (46%) of women say they do. Women are also considerably more likely than men to say they struggle to establish boundaries with others, by 43% vs 32%.

But there are some people-pleasing characteristics that similar shares of men and women identify with. One-third (33%) of men say they often mirror the behavior of others in social situations to make them comfortable; 34% of women say the same. Additionally, 28% of men and 31% of women say they have a hard time recognizing how they really feel about something. Men and women also are equally likely to say they agree with others, even when they actually don’t (29% of men say they do this, as do 28% of women.

In the Washington Post article, several experts suggested that being a people-pleaser can have a negative impact on a person’s well-being. It can make it challenging to have healthy relationships with others, and it can easily lead to the people-pleaser putting aside their own goals and values.

Among self-identified people-pleasers in YouGov’s poll, 39% say being this way has made their life harder. Women (47%) are more likely than men (26%) to say this. But 24% say that being a people-pleaser has had no impact on their life, and 23% say it has made their life easier. While just 14% of women who would describe themselves as a people-pleaser say that people-pleasing has made their life easier, 35% of self-described people-pleasers who are men would say so — meaning people-pleasing men are more likely to say the behavior has made their lives easier than harder.

Other results from this poll also suggest that women have a more negative concept of people-pleasing.

Among American adults who consider themselves people-pleasers, women (25%) are about twice as likely as men (12%) to say they dislike being thought of this way. However, the majority of people-pleasing women (53%) and men (57%) say they don’t mind being considered as such. Another 15% of people-pleasers -- including 10% of women and 22% of men -- say they like being viewed this way. About twice as many men like than dislike being seen as people-pleasers, while less than half of women say they like than dislike being seen that way.

Among all Americans, one-third of women say being a people-pleaser is usually or always a bad thing, while just 24% of men say the same. However, higher percentages of men (41%) and women (40%) say that being a people-pleaser is neither a good nor bad thing.

The Washington Post article suggests that many people, including especially large shares of women and people in marginalized groups, are socialized to become people-pleasers. But the majority of people-pleasers in YouGov’s poll don’t believe this has been the case for them.

Among Americans who consider themselves people-pleasers, 60% say it just comes naturally to them while 23% think they were socialized to be this way. Men (67%) are more likely than women (55%) to say being a people-pleaser is a natural part of their personality rather than something that was conditioned. Around one-quarter of men (22%) and women (23%) believe they were socialized to be this way.

— Taylor Orth, Linley Sanders, and Carl Bialik contributed to this article.

Related: Ever agree to plans and later wish you hadn’t? According to this poll, you’re far from alone

This poll was conducted on June 18 - 21, 2022 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this YouGov poll.

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