It’s the age-old men are from Mars, women are from Venus, girls versus boys, battle of the sexes argument: which gender is smarter, men or women? A lot of research has been done on this topic, and it is still impossible to say whether men are smarter than women, women are smarter than men, or the sexes are equal. All we can do is speculate, and after reading up on the subject, I suggest that men appear to be smarter than women, but that the sexes are actually equal in intelligence.
If we go by traditional measures of intelligence, men are concluded to be smarter than women. In our early years, boys and girls have the same average score on the Stanford-Binet IQ test, the standard test of intelligence. However, once we reach adulthood, men score, on average, about four points higher than women do. There are also many more men in the genius category. For each woman with an IQ over 155, there are 5.5 men, and for each woman with an IQ of 125, there are two men. The American Mensa, an association for people with high IQs, also reports that 65% of their members are male. Men don’t just score higher on IQ tests; they also score higher on the SAT. Boys score 35 points higher on average than girls, and they especially outperform girls in the math section. The College Board releases information about the SAT test takers every year and there are plenty of interesting things to be learnt in their report. There is data on SAT scores, GPAs, classes taken and intended majors of the test takers. However, when studying the report, it is important to keep in mind that only 46.54% of test takers were male, so when there are percentages comparing males and females, an equal ratio would be about 47% to 53%. Boys hugely outperformed girls in the math section and slightly outperformed them in the verbal section. In the top verbal score range, there were 12,835 males and 12,588 females, while in the top math score range, there were 21,507 males and 9,809 females. It is generally perceived that girls are better than boys at verbal tasks and that boys are better than girls at math, so it is interesting that the boys outperform the girls in both areas. Although boys fared better on the SAT, girls tend to do better in school.
The College Board also keeps records of responses to the survey at the end of the SAT and reports them. The survey asks questions like “How many years have you taken of English in high school?” or “What grades do you typically get in school?” Examining this data, even when we consider that only 47% of test takers were boys, it is clear that many more girls were in the A+, A, and A- categories of GPA. Many more boys than girls were in the C, D, E, and F categories (B was approximately equal). Girls seem to be ahead in school. A quick study of my high school’s high honor roll for first quarter 2008 shows us that of the seniors on high honor roll, 60% were girls; of the juniors, 73%; of the sophomores, 70%; and of the freshmen, 69%. In total, 67% of people of the high honor roll were girls. We can conclude that boys perform better on standardized tests and girls perform better in school.
Why do girls do better in school? It’s all a question of processing speed. So many school activities are timed, and girls tend to perform timed tasks faster. “A new study of 8,000 people age 2 to 90 found females handle timed tasks more quickly than males… ‘Consider that many classroom activities, including testing, are directly or indirectly related to processing speed,’ Camarata and colleague Richard Woodcock write in the May-June issue of the journal Intelligence. ‘The higher performance in females may contribute to a classroom culture that favors females, not because of teacher bias but because of inherent differences in sex processing speed.'” Why do females process faster? Women have ten times the white matter that men have. White matter is the connective tissue of the brain-it passes information around. Since women can connect ideas faster, they can get things done faster. Men have 6.5 times more gray matter than women. Gray matter is the part of the brain used for computation, so that could be one reason why men tend to excel in math and science more often than women. Women’s brains and men’s brains are different, so they have different inherent strengths and weaknesses.
Society at large doesn’t help women to achieve. People believe that men are smarter, and women are adversely affected by hearing people say (consciously or unconsciously) that men are more intelligent. Adrian Furnham, a man who studies perceived intelligence, said in an interview with Newsweek that “[b]oth sexes believe that their fathers are smarter than their mothers and grandfathers are more intelligent than their grandmothers… If there are children, [both] men and women think their sons are brighter than their daughters.” Consider the effects of being thought of as less intelligent than your brother and husband by your parents and children. Also, since men seem to be more at the extremes of intelligence (very high and very low IQs), people see many more male geniuses than female geniuses and internalize the idea of men being smarter, because the unintelligent men don’t get as much press as the intelligent ones. Women see intelligent men, see that their families don’t generally perceive them as intelligent, hear that they score worse on the SAT, and hear that they have lower IQs than men. They decide that they must be less intelligent. It has been shown that when women are told that they will do worse than men, they do. This excerpt from an American Psychological Association article explores this phenomenon:
“In a 1999 study, Steven Spencer and colleagues reported that merely telling women that a math test usually shows gender differences hurt their performance. This phenomenon of ‘stereotype threat’ occurs when people believe they will be evaluated based on societal stereotypes about their particular group. In the study, the researchers gave a math test to men and women after telling half the women that the test had shown gender differences, and telling the rest that it found none. Women who expected gender differences did significantly worse than men. Those who were told there was no gender disparity performed equally to men. What’s more, the experiment was conducted with women who were top performers in math.”
Since SAT testing began in 1901, a time when women were certainly perceived by all to be less intelligent, it is possible that the score disparity started when the first woman took the SAT, thinking that she was surely not as smart as the men taking the test. Since then, it has been common knowledge that women do not score as well on the SAT as men, so that has affected generations of women taking the test.
Another possible explanation for women’s lower scores is that the SAT measures a certain type of thinking, not scholastic aptitude. Students can improve their scores on the SAT by taking classes to learn how to think like the test makers. The test makers were men, as were the makers of the Stanford-Binet IQ test. Men and women think very differently because of the differences in the make-up of their brains and because of how differently they are raised. When women are measured on a man’s intellectual yardstick, they cannot hope to attain the same height as a man measured on the same scale. It would be very interesting to see the discrepancies between male and female scores on an IQ test devised by women.
Another interesting socially affected area is career choice. The College Board has some interesting data about SAT takers’ intended college majors. When we list all of the majors that have girls at over 60% or under 45% (to allow for there being more girls than boys), we can see that girls largely go into the arts; biology; communications; education; foreign or classical languages; health and allied services; home economics; library and archival sciences; and social sciences and history. On the other hand, boys largely go into architecture or environmental design; computer or information sciences; engineering; mathematics; military sciences; philosophy, theology, or religion; physical sciences; and technical and vocational. It is common for us to see that data and think that it is only natural, saying that engineering, math, and physical sciences are “boy things”. Let us consider some more data from the College Board report.
Girls do a little bit worse in math (even worse than shown in Figure 4 when you consider that they tend to do better in school anyway), but not so much worse that only 16% of girls should go into engineering. Why does this happen? Compare general perceptions of an engineer (a career that requires a B.S.) and general perceptions of a nurse (also a career that requires a B.S.). The engineer is considered to be smarter than the nurse. The engineer is also stereotypically (and statistically) a man, and the nurse is a woman. It is unclear whether these roles arise because of our ideas of the intelligence of men and women or because of our perceptions of the jobs themselves. Either way, women somehow tend up much more often in the “less intelligent” careers.
Gender is an important social aspect to study in tandem with intelligence, because once we know about societal perceptions and their effect on women, we can begin to think about our prejudices and help women to achieve. It seems that the sexes have equal potential for success, as shown by their equal performance in childhood, but something happens to the females to bring down their IQ scores with respect to male IQ scores. As a society, it is our responsibility to encourage young women (and men) to pursue their goals. We must tell them and show them that they can do anything.
APA. “Think Again: Men and Women Share Cognitive Skills.” American Psychological
Association 18 January 2006. 9 January 2009
BBC News. “‘Men Cleverer Than Women’ Claim.” BBC News 25 August 2005. 9 January 2009
Britt, Robert Roy. “Girls Much Quicker Than Boys at Timed Tasks.” LiveScience 25 April 2006.
3 January 2009
College Board Summary Reporting Service (SRS). “College-Bound Seniors: A Profile of SAT
Test Takers.” College Board 2004. 2 January 2009
InfoZine. “Intelligence in Men and Women is a Gray and White Matter.” InfoZine 26 January
2005. 7 January 2009
McCarthy, Alice A. “Male Versus Female Intelligence: Does Gender Matter?” Swedish 17 June
2008. 7 January 2009
Raymond, Joan. “He’s Not as Smart as He Thinks.” Newsweek 23 January 2008. 3 January 2009