Do women have a better sense of smell than men?
Yes, but the effects may be small.
If you’ve attended a wine, whisky or gin tasting lately, you may have heard that women have a better sense of smell than men. But is there any truth behind this observation?
In the early and mid 2000s, researchers reported that women of reproductive age can become more sensitive to smells with repeated exposure. Women’s reported increase in sensitivity over time was considerable - between 5 and 11 orders of magnitude - whereas men showed no such change.
A meta-analysis published in 2019 found that women outperform men on naming smells, distinguishing between smells and detecting smells, but these effects were small.
It may be tempting to think that these effects are due to hormonal differences between men and women, especially because women’s sense of smell has been found to increase during the second half of the menstrual cycle. Some researchers have suggested that the superior sense of smell in women of reproductive age may support bonding between mothers and infants.
However, differences in the sense of smell between males and females have been observed in children as well as adults, leading researchers to conclude that the relationship between hormones and men and women’s sense of smell is not straightforward.