Monday, January 24, 2005

New York Times reports on differences between sexes

The New York Times has a big science article today about differences between the sexes in math ability.

This article does not say that "everyone knows" that there's no difference between the sexes. Instead, the article hesitatingly presents evidence that such differences exist. Hesitatingly because it's considered politically incorect to suggest that every human brain does not have exactly the same potential.

"We can't get anywhere denying that there are neurological and hormonal differences between males and females, because there clearly are," said Virginia Valian, a psychology professor at Hunter College.

We begin with a supporting quote from a professor.

[N]ew brain imaging studies from the University of California, Irvine, suggest that men and women with equal I.Q. scores use different proportions of their gray and white matter when solving problems like those on intelligence tests.

You read about that here first.

Nor is the masculine edge in math unique to the United States. In an international standardized test administered in 2003 by the international research group Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to 250,000 15-year-olds in 41 countries, boys did moderately better on the math portion in just over half the nations.

The difference is not unique to the culture of the United States but is worldwide. What the article doesn't mention is that, math excepted, girls are better students than boys.

Interestingly, in Iceland and everywhere else, girls participating in the survey expressed far more negative attitudes toward math.

It's a worldwide thing that girls don't like math. Once again, a sex difference not specific to U.S. culture. But note that just because people don't like a subject doesn't necessarily mean they do poorly in it. Girls in Iceland obviously have very good study habits.

But when it comes to selecting a career, obviously girls who don't like math will not choose a career that's math intensive.

[T]he overwhelmingly male tails of the bell curve may be telling. Such results, taken together with assorted other neuro-curiosities like the comparatively greater number of boys with learning disorders, autism and attention deficit disorder, suggest to them that the male brain is a delicate object, inherently prone to extremes, both of incompetence and of genius.

The meaning of the previous paragraph should be obvious if you understand statistics.

In many formerly male-dominated fields like medicine and law, women have already reached parity, at least at the entry levels. At the undergraduate level, women outnumber men in some sciences like biology.

This is a very important point. In all prestigious fields previously considered to be "male," women have now achieved parity in numbers, with the exception of math heavy careers. In fact, law and medicine both have greater prestige than engineering or computer programming!

The politically correct theory, that girls shy away from masculine activities in school because they are afraid that boys won't go on dates with them, makes absolutely no sense. (1) Math isn't especially masculine, no boy wants to do well at math so he can impress girls, trust me. (2) In every prestigious non-math field previously considered masculine, women have reached parity.

I think it's unfortunate that women have less aptitude with math (or maybe just a biologically influenced dislike of math), but we should take pride in those subjects in which we have greater aptitude than men instead of whining about non-existent discrimination in math intensive fields.

15 comments:

Jim Jardine said...

Do you consider yourself to be victimized?

TWM said...

"Non-existent" discrimination?

Discrimination always exists. Perhaps men are just "better at math" due to biology - certainly I believe there are innate differences between men and women that should be not be ignored, and in fact should be celebrated.

But it is incredibly naive to suggest that discrimination does not exist at some level. Perhaps it is not pervasive - indeed I do not believe it is. But to deny its existence is the same as denying the differences between men and women.

Christy said...

I wonder if there are differences in how girls v. boys do when you look at types of math. Like algebra and geometry or really high-level math that's not as "left brained".

R said...

"no boy wants to do well at math so he can impress girls, trust me."

Trust me, we do. At least those of us wanting to attract those women who are simply not impressed by the proficiency one has with a beer bong.

We let them keep the rabble; the intellectuals are much more interesting. (The sex is better, too.)

David said...

There may be a rather contrarian social factor at work here. For at least two decades, leftists have attacked science and technology as oppressive, dehumanizing, and "patriarchal." Surely this has influenced some young women in a way not very conducive to a career in, say, electrical engineering.

It's funny...at the very same time the stereotype that it was "unfeminine" for a woman to go into science or engineering, leftists created a new sterotype...that any woman pursuig such a career would be a traitor to her gender.

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Steph said...

>boys did moderately better on the math portion in just over half the nations.

Is it just me, or does this study seem to be grasping at straws? I mean, boys did better about half the time? Isn't that what *should* happen statistically, with no major differences in body/brain chemistry, etc.?

Brad Warbiany said...

Steph,
The writing is horrible. That comment is phrased very ambiguously. It could mean that boys do better half the time, although I think that is not the intended meaning.

I suspect what they're saying is that in half the countries, boys do better by a statistically significant margin. The other half of the countries, there is either no difference between boys and girls, or it is too small to be significant.

Maybe it was a great male mathematician with poor language skills that wrote the article ;-)

Lumo said...

Hi Libertarian Girl! I just want to say that your blog is cool (well, including the picture!). And this article is correct, including the comment that the boys are never interested in math in order to impress the girls. In fact, math is a repellent, as far as I can say. All the best, Lubos

Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey said...

I've dated not one but TWO different guys mostly because they were good at math (that was one of the significant attraction factors for me).

But I'm weird.

vini alesi said...

"In fact, law and medicine both have greater prestige than engineering or computer programming!"

The politically incorrect explanation; law and medicine are heavily regulated institutions completely permeated by the state. Engineering is less so, and computer programming not at all yet. If the state wants women to be at parity in law and medicine, all it has to do is wave a wand to make it so. Not so with engineering or computer programming. In fact, mathematical incompetence is no less disastrous in law or medicine than in engineering or programming - just that this incompetence is swiftly punished in engineering, while in law or medicine, incompetents are protected by the ABA and the AMA.

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