Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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Differences in ability between men and women

About this article

Over time, this page has become one of the most visited on my website—which is almost unfortunate, seeing that it was also one the most poorly thought through and written: The page started small, was repeatedly added to without true integration, and to large parts contents and topic matched poorly.

With a major overhaul at the end of August 2013, I hope to have made a considerable improvement. Still: The article remains a bit “hodge-podgy” and not always clearly divided between differences even on the average and differences mainly at the upper end. References to e.g. statistics on IQ are still missing. There may be such a thing as too many side-notes. The future may see additions of more specific differences (including the well-known “verbal–spatial” contrast) and an actual discussion of evidence.

As an alternative to this page, I can recommend an article by intelligence researcher Richard Lynne, which makes many of the core points in an excellent manner.

A brief chronology:

  1. The original draft for this article, focusing on lists of scientists, was written the summer of 2009, and then originally rejected as too uninformative and likely to cause contention.

  2. In December of the same year, I did some considerable reading and writing on feminism, and found that the contents were highly useful in illustrating certain points. (Most notably, that inequality in outcome, especially at the upper-end) is not proof of inequality in opportunity.) The article was revisited, slightly polished, and extended with some new sections; however, not updated for the 2009 Noble Prizes, which had been awarded in the mean time.

    Seeing that there was an unprecedented 4 or 5 female winners (depending on whether the Economy Prize is included) to 7 or 8 male; with a total of 2/2.5 prizes (3/3.5 for men), I promised an update should the result be repeated in 2010. It was not: No woman even shared a prize—making 2010 a typical year. 2011 and 2012 turned out to be yet other men-only years, outside of the Peace Prize. (However, during the overhaul the numbers have been updated to reflect the state after the 2012 Prizes.)

  3. Various sections were added until my roughly two year break and then remained in a sub-optimal state until the aforementioned overhaul.

Introduction: Men and women are equal in rights—not in ability

Much of public opinion and public discourse is based on the assumption that men and women are necessarily equal in ability. However, there is considerable evidence for this not being the case, e.g. psychometric research, physiological brain differences, and observation of outcome.

Since these differences on the balance favour men, there is an increasing problem with calls for more “equality” to protect women from alleged discrimination, the infamous and imaginary Patriarchy, and similar, in a situation where the sexes already are equal in opportunity. (Broadly speaking, with some variations mostly in the favour of ... women.) Falling for these calls would be tantamount to giving women an unfair leg up on the cost of men.

This page points out that men (on average, with a focus on the upper end) have a greater intellectual ability than women.

I stress, however, that this page deals with the sexes as aggregates: Individual variations can be gigantic; and if we pick a random man and a random woman of the street, the woman has a reasonable chance of being the brighter. (But pick a thousand and the men will almost certainly have a small but significant lead.)

Lists of scientists

For some reason, in the late nineties, I decided to make a list of the first ten scientists that popped into my head. The result:

Einsteinw
Newtonw
Turingw
Gödelw
Hawkingw
Marie Curiew
Pierre Curiew
Laplacew
Joulew
Ohmw

(Note that this is not a ranking of scientists, merely the result of “free association”.)

Years later, I found this list again and noted that it contained only one woman. Because I was then interested in the question of whether women (as a group) actually can be considered the intellectual equals of men (I have grown more and more skeptical over the years), I set myself the task of within one minute coming up with as many new female scientists of truly high value possible. I only came up with one name, Ayn Rand, and she is not actually a scientist... Further, it can be disputed whether she actually is on the same level as the above names.


Side-note:

The list should have contained one indisputable name, Emmy Noether,—an omission caused by the form of the exercise: I tend to handle time pressure poorly and “cramp” in situations like these, which also can be seen in the below list for men. In addition, my background in hard sciences may have left me unaware of or underestimating the odd woman from another field (cf. below). However, the harder sciences are better measures than the softer to begin with, requiring relatively more and harder thought and relatively less leg-work.


I next tried the same task for men:

Foucaultw
Leibnizw
Dawkinsw
Bakkerw
Flemingw
Bellw
Edisonw
Hubblew

Some of these are disputable (e.g. is Bakker of sufficient value? were Bell and Edison scientists?). Still, the result is much better than for women. Furthermore, the number of undeserved exclusions is far greater. Names that should have been obvious to me include Gauss, Darwin, Feynmann, Bohr, Gell-Mann, von Neumann, ... Unlike with women, the problem is not in a lack of strong candidates, but in weighing relative merits and finding an appropriate cut-off.

So far I am lead to the conclusion that female scientists of true greatness are few and far between; in particular, considering that a part of Marie Curies fame comes from her being a woman—I doubt that had the Curies been the brothers Pierre and Marc, instead of husband and wife, Marc’s fame would be as great as Marie’s.


Side-note:

I strongly suspect that being a successful woman in a field gives a significant bonus in terms of public perception, which can skew the impression of what women have accomplished. Consider e.g. the mentions of Judith Polgar and Frida Kahlo below. An extremely good example is the couple Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes: She is far more famous among the broad masses and he is rarely mentioned without her name popping up—but he is often rated higher by those “in the know” and was even appointed the British Poet Laureat. While I, myself, have only had an extremely superficial exposure to her poetry, I have read her book “The Bell Jar”—and found it to be sufficiently stylistically poor and pointing to sufficient immaturity both as a person and a writer that I cannot consider her a prose author to in anyway take seriously, even when adjusting for the fact that the semi-autobiographical protagonist was at an age where immaturity is to be expected. (My exposure to Hughes and his greater cross-genre output is limited to poetry and is just as superficial as for Plath.)


Outside the hard sciences

My lists have a clear lean towards math, computer science and natural sciences, which reflects my main academic background. Would a student of e.g. social sciences see a different picture? Likely, at least to some degree; however, men dominate here too—even be their dominance smaller. Look at psychology and psychiatry: Freud, Jung, Adler, Erikson, Berne, Maslow, Kohlberg, Eysenck, Dabrowski, ... are male examples. OTOH, I can think of but two female examples of the top of my head: Anna Freud, who was Sigmund’s daughter and who derived at least part of her fame from this fact, and Karen Horney. (There are several other women that I am vaguely aware off, but where I would need to consult Wikipedia to even recall their names.)

The same principle applies to inventors, philosophers, painters, chess players, ... Yes, there are female such; no, they do not rate among the very best of their field. Even the famed Judith Polgar was never ranked higher than 8th in the world at any time—and in one opinione is the 69th (!) best player of all time. Frida Kahlo is rated no higher than 49th on a proposed list of the top 101 painterse. I see only two areas where women are not far outdistanced, namely writing and popular music; however, women do increasingly worse as literature moves from popular to high, and I cannot, off the top of my head, name even one classical female composer, irrespective of value.


Side-note:

“cannot” applied at the time of original writing. Many with an interest in classical music would have kicked me for being ignorant of at least Hildegard von Bingen (whom I at the time saw as just a religious figure). However, seeing that for instance this list of the 50 greatest composerse does not include a single woman, my point certainly stands.

It can, obviously, be argued that the rarity of women is related to the greater dominance of “old” composers compared to the scientists; however, Hildegard von Bingen is no new-comer from the last fifty years—she died in 1179...


Further, there is a clear connection between the level of head work vs. leg work needed: The more and more advanced thinking is needed to excel, the worse women seem to do (see the discussion of Nobel prizes below; note that there is not one single female winner of the Fields medalw); whereas they often excel at tasks that require industriousness.

My impression so far: Women are often good at learning the knowledge, techniques, whatnot, that someone else has created, but are noticeably weaker when it comes to actually creating something new—the ability which typically defines genius, and which is what ultimately brings humanity forward. Similarly, when it comes to critical thinking, to evaluate or improve a theory, to decide which of several alternatives is the better, etc., almost all women fail. (In all fairness, while the minority of men that are good at this is larger than for women, it is still a clear minority.)

Nobel Prizes

Much of the above is obviously subjective. However, there is an obvious source of near-objective data: The Nobel Prizes.


Side-note:

While these are also ultimately based on subjective decisions, these decisions have been made by a greater group with a more nuanced and detailed knowledge of the respective field than I provide. Further, the time span involved reduces the risk for a systematic bias. In a twist, the two Prizes that remain highly subjective and are often given for political reasons are the ones where women do the best...


As of August 2013 http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/lists/women.htmle lists the following female winners per prize (beware that in the sciences the prize is usually shared between several individuals, e.g. Marie and Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel in 1903):


Addendum:

The results of the later 2013 awards are fully in line with the below discussion: There was one single female laureat (Alice Munro)—and she won in Literature...


Physics
1903 - Marie Curie
1963 - Maria Goeppert-Mayer

Chemistry
1911 - Marie Curie
1935 - Irène Joliot-Curie
1964 - Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin
2009 - Ada E. Yonath

Physiology or Medicine
1947 - Gerty Cori
1977 - Rosalyn Yalow
1983 - Barbara McClintock
1986 - Rita Levi-Montalcini
1988 - Gertrude B. Elion
1995 - Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard
2004 - Linda B. Buck
2008 - Françoise Barré-Sinoussi
2009 - Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider

Literature
1909 - Selma Lagerlöf
1926 - Grazia Deledda
1928 - Sigrid Undset
1938 - Pearl Buck
1945 - Gabriela Mistral
1966 - Nelly Sachs
1991 - Nadine Gordimer
1993 - Toni Morrison
1996 - Wislawa Szymborska
2004 - Elfriede Jelinek
2007 - Doris Lessing
2009 - Herta Müller

Peace
1905 - Bertha von Suttner
1931 - Jane Addams
1946 - Emily Greene Balch
1976 - Betty Williams
1976 - Mairead Corrigan
1979 - Mother Teresa
1982 - Alva Myrdal
1991 - Aung San Suu Kyi
1992 - Rigoberta Menchú Tum
1997 - Jody Williams
2003 - Shirin Ebadi
2004 - Wangari Maathai
2011 - Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkol Karman

Economy 2009 - Elinor Ostrom

http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/lists/all/e claims a grand total of 835 individuals and 21 organisations as winners. With the above 43 (38 if we discount the extreme outlier of 2009) female winners, we are left with almost twenty times as many male winners! Worse yet, a clear majority of the female winners have come in the non-science categories literature and peace—the last of which does not require intellectual accomplishment of any kind, and is often handed out for strictly political reasons (cf. my discussion of the Peace Prize). In physics and chemistry the grand-total of female wins are six—three of which belong to Marie Curie or her daughter! (And of which only one has come past 1964—odd in the light of claims of women being intellectually oppressed until the last few decades...)

Even in literature there is a male dominance—despite the claim that men’s superiority with numbers is complemented by a female superiority with letters. There is some evidence that this is true for individuals of roughly equal IQ; however, a man of sufficiently higher intelligence will likely outdo a woman of a lower intelligence. Further, other abilities are beneficial in writing a ground-breaking novel than just “a knack for language”.

Certainly, there may be other factors than intellectual prowess involved, e.g. different priorities, conscious or unconscious discrimination, whatnot; however, various anti-woman factors are unlikely to be a major issue today. On the contrary, considering the political situation and society of Sweden and Norway, women are far more likely to have received an artificial boost (over at least the last few decades).


Side-note:

Sweden is a country where political correctness is given high priority, and common sense is often thrown out the window when the feminists beckon—to the point that media consider a minimal “deficit” in the number of female cabinet members a greater failure in a prime minister than a record-breaking budget deficit. Further yet, if there was discrimination against women, it would almost certainly be more noticeable in the literature and peace categories than in the science categories, where the room for subjectivity is significantly smaller and the peers are (comparatively) more interested in facts than people—indeed, the more so in physics than in medicine, showing a reverse trend to the actual number of winners.

Indeed, leaving the Economy Prize aside (which from the character of the field is hard to judge), I would rate the Prizes in the following order of objectivity, based on the field and vulnerability to politics and public opinion: Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, Peace—with a major gap between the science and non-science prizes. This is the exact same order as if they were ordered ascendingly by the number of female winners, with respectively, 2, 4, 10, 12, 15 entries. Adjusted as a proportion of winners, the division between science and non-science would grow clearer yet and the apparent closeness of 10 and 12 would disappear, being replaced by 10/201 ~ 0.05 and 12/109 ~ 0.11 resp. (However, the Literature/Peace gap would blur. More generally, the gaps between individual science and between individual non-science Prizes should be taken with a grain of salt, considering the effects of having just one winner more or one winner less.) As a check, the numbers for Swedish winnersw:sv follow a similar pattern: 4, 4, 7, 7, 5. Adjusting for the relative number of winners, the 7 for Literature sticks out; the 5 for Peace is also higher than would be expected, but less telling, being awarded by Norway. (A pro-Sweden bias is to be expected.) As a counter-check, the relative Jewish numberse follow (approximately) the reverse pattern yielding further support: 0.26, 0.19, 0.28, 0.13, 0.09. (A pro-Jew bias is unlikely and an anti-Israel one at least conceivable; at the same time, Ashkenazi Jews have a well documented IQ advantage over other groups. The pattern breaking number for Physiology or Medicine could be related to the stereotypical Jewish wish for a career in medicine.)


Differences in Intelligence

Men have higher IQ scores than women

Investigations into IQ scores show two clear tendencies (but not all investigations show both): Firstly, men are on average more intelligent, leading women by several points—according to some sources more than five points. Secondly, men have a larger standard deviation than women. The overall effect of this is that men dominate the higher IQ reaches, and the higher the IQ grows the larger the dominance becomes.

This is highly significant, because IQ is a very strong (if imperfect) measure of intellectual potential, ability to think abstractly, solve problems, and so on—and is likely the strongest single predictor of intellectual accomplishment, workplace competence, and similar.

In particular, the precious few that make the greatest contributions are almost invariably of very high intelligence: It is not enough to take someone with an IQ of even 125, put him through tertiary and post-graduate education, and see him collect international acclaim—in math or physics it would be near unthinkable, and even in soft subjects he would have a hard time. Someone with an IQ of 100 was long not even considered “college material” (unfortunately, standards for earning e.g. a U.S. bachelor have dropped considerably over the last few decades). High intelligence may not be enough to e.g. win a Nobel Prize in physics, but it is more or less a pre-requisite.

But what about Marilyn vos Savant?

But Marilyn vos Savantw has the world’s highest IQ! Women are smarter than men!

This is a specious argument. Consider that:

  1. The mere existence of one extreme example says next to nothing. (By analogy, there are humans who are heavier than even a heavy lion—yet few would dispute the claim that lions are heavier than humans.)

  2. The claims that she is the the most intelligent human base on tests made when she was ten (10!) years old, when she was found to be as intelligent as the average twenty-something. An adult test put her at roughly one in thirty million (according to the above Wikipedia link), which makes her roughly one of the top two-thousand-or-so globally—with a clear majority of the others being men...


    Side-note:

    The old “intelligence age” tests systematically tended to exaggerate high scores compared to the modern “standard deviation” tests. Consider a group of ten year old children with IQs of respectively 100, 110, 200, and 210. 100 is the average while 110 corresponds to child of ten with the brain of a child of 11—one year of growth and development in a child. 200 would be a child of ten with the brain of a twenty year old semi-adult and the step to 210 and a twenty-one year old semi-adult is far smaller. Indeed, the step from 200 to 230 might still be smaller than the step from 100 to 110. With tests using standard deviations, it is the other way around—a far smaller proportion of those who break 200 also break 210 than the corresponding proportion for 100 to 110.

    Further, intelligence-test scores of children are imperfect predictors of later adult scores, mostly because children develop at different rates (in particular, girls faster than boys).


  3. As stated above, a high IQ is a pre-requisite for intellectual accomplishment—whether it also sufficient is another matter. Notably, Marilyn has, to my knowledge, never made any important discoveries or inventions, never published a significant paper, nor otherwise made an intellectual contribution that could not have been done by hundreds of thousands of other people. (Note that this makes her capabilities unproved—not disproved. To duly note: The same statement most certainly applies to me too.)

    Further, there are claims (that I have not investigated) that her attempts at math and logic have contained many beginner’s errors.

    I have no doubt that she could have become a good scientist in the field of her choice. Whether she would also have become outstanding is another matter—and I would be highly skeptical to her chances of reaching the heights of Einstein, Newton, or Gauss. (As I would be with a randomly picked man of the same adult IQ.)

  4. There are disputes as to whether the concept of IQ is at all valid and measurable above some limit. (I have seen mentions in the interval 140–160, and tests not calibrated for high-IQ individuals can be near useless even earlier.)


    Side-note:

    Consider, similarly, competitions in archery: A lower-level competition is about gathering as many points as possible; a top-level competition is about having so few screwed up shots that miss the bull’s-eye as possible. The same scoring system is used for both, but the interpretation of the score, differences in score, developments in score, whatnot, are very different; and a number that approximates the probability of hitting a bull’s-eye, would be a better measure in the second case. Theoretically, top-level competitions could degenerate into near-unavoidable ties, because misses become too rare, which would make changes to the competition format necessary—and thereby transforming the sport into something new. (Consider e.g. using randomly chosen distances to the targets, doubling the distance and repeating the competition after a tie, using moving targets, adding artificial disturbance, using imperfect arrows, ...)

    Further, the influences of chance, poor nerves, and similar, can vary considerably, giving the competitions very different characters.


Personality types and way of thinking

On an MBTI scale women tend to belong to the “lower” sub-types of F and S, with correspondingly fewer reaching N and T—and there being several times more men than women who simultaneously reach both. (Cf. statistics on MBTIe.) This, however, is a considerable handicap in the sciences, where higher thinking is required, and for intellectual development (but it may be acceptable in the arts). Cf. my musings on MBTI.

Superstition and irrationality

On repeated occasions I have seen news-paper articles with statistics on belief in ghosts, ESP, religion, astrology, ... Invariably, women have been the more gullible of the sexes, often topping each individual category of the statistics. Indeed, the one area where men tend to top is extra-terrestrial life and UFOs—and here at least some are likely to be the victims of poor test questions: Unidentified Flying Objects indisputably exist, while visiting space craft are a very different issue. Extra-terrestrial life is a virtual certainty and intelligent such at least a possibility, while intelligent extra-terrestrial visitors are highly unlikely.

This is another strong indication of a lesser degree of rationality and, possibly, intelligence. (Rationality and intelligence are not the same, notwithstanding a correlation.)


Side-note:

Despite considerable Internet searches, I have failed to dig up any concrete and suitable references. A few approximations include http://www.astrology.co.uk/news/astrostats.htme and http://www.livescience.com/7689-women-religious-men.htmle.

Interestingly, I did see some claims made, without references, that men would be more likely to adhere to “conspiracy theories”. If this is true, some important differences to superstitions are worth to bear in mind:

  1. Conspiracy theories tend to base on actual arguments to a far higher degree than superstitions. (While still, almost always, being incorrect, e.g. because arguments that appear strong turn out not to be so on closer inspection. Consider e.g. the moon landing and flag which seemed to move in the wind. Then again, every once in a blue moon they are correct, as with the NSA/PRISM/etc.)

  2. Conspiracy theories often do not have any solid evidence against them: Controlled tests and deeper investigations can show (and has shown) that e.g. various ESP claims are bogus; no such test is available for e.g. some theories on the Kennedy assassination.

  3. Superstition is usually a matter of too much credulity; conspiracy theories often base in far more critical thinking and an unwillingness to take a commonly held belief for the truth. This includes that many believers in superstitions have been held these beliefs since they were children—but unlike others did not grow out of these beliefs over time.


Similarly, women appear to be more vulnerable to advertising and emotional arguments, more likely to believe in the claims of pseudo-scientist gender-researchers or of homeopathy proponents (even when contradicted by main stream science), and so on.

Views of others

It it striking how many great male thinkers, at least in the time before political correctness, looked down on the intellectual level of women. Consider, e.g. the following quotes from Schopenhauere (1788–1860):

Women are suited to being the nurses and teachers of our earliest childhood precisely because they themselves are childish, silly and short-sighted, in a word big children, their whole lives long: a kind of intermediate stage between the child and the man, who is the actual human being, ‘man.’

The fundamental defect of the female character is a lack of a sense of justice. This originates first and foremost in their want of rationality and capacity for reflexion but it is strengthened by the fact that, as the weaker sex, they are driven to rely not on force but on cunning: hence their instinctive subtlety and their ineradicable tendency to tell lies: [...]

[...] the most eminent heads of the entire sex have proved incapable of a single truly great, genuine and original achievement in art, or indeed of creating anything at all of lasting value: [...]

While I consider these statements to be both over-generalizations and unnecessarily harshly formulated, they nevertheless point to observations that I, myself, have made over and over again, both concerning individual women and when (as in this article) looking at group characteristics. Notably, the considerable increase in the quantity of education available to women has not substantially changed matters: The typical woman is half-way between a typical “young adult” and a typical man—and while I do not think highly of men either, many of my complaints about humanity go in the direction of “men bad; women worse”. This applies e.g. to lack of moral development, rationality, intelligence, self-reflection, ability to see other perspectives, ... As discussed above, great contributions to arts and sciences from even the most talented and intelligent women are conspicuously rare—where not entirely absent.


Side-note:

I deliberately do not speak of “male young adult” above: The differences between young adults of different sexes are far less clear-cut, even giving girls an advantage at sufficiently young ages. Indeed, I would conjecture that the explanation for much of the above is that women cease to develop at an earlier age than men. (This is supported e.g. by the faster development of girls, counter-intuitive as it may seem: Comparing different species, e.g. humans and chimpanzees, the one that develops faster usually also ceases development sufficiently much earlier that it actually trails in terms of the mature level.)


Similar truths have been preached in more or less any era (read the Bible). Alas, instead of contemplating the possibility that these reflect fundamental and long-standing insights into how the average female mind works, far too many modern humans consider them outdated and sexist prejudices—or, in the case of many feminists, deliberate lies to justify oppression of women.

Looking at more modern sources, there are many who make the same observations, often with further going statements—including a female (!) self-declared misogyniste, who has one of the lowest opinions of women that I have ever seen (outside of juvenile groups).

Murray and Human Accomplishment

Roughly one year after the original publication of this page, I encountered the Wikipedia article on Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 BC to 1950w by Charles Murray. I have not had the opportunity to read the book, but from Wikipedia and a few other articles discussing the book, it appears to give plenty of evidence for the same phenomenon over a greater number of disciplines.


Side-note:

The restriction to pre-1950 does give women an automatic disadvantage; however, not so large a disadvantage as to reasonably explain differences of this size. Note that there have been many women over the centuries who have had both time and opportunity to specialize in art or literature, even science; and that a majority of all men have historically not had this opportunity. Further, as discussed above, even the time past 1950 has not brought a truly remarkable change in outcome.


Looking at Wikipedia, eight of the nine top-20 lists included at the time of writing (Mathematics, Western music, Combined sciences, Western philosophy, Western literature, Physics, Western art, Technology) contain a grand-total of one (!) woman: Marie Curie, who reaches 41 out of 100 on the Physics list, and actually ranks below Pierre (a speculation on whye notes e.g. that a joint Chemistry/Physics list might look differently). The ninth, Chinese literature, may or may not contain more women.

Further, in an interview, Murray says:

Q. Which woman scored the highest?

A. Murasaki Shikibu, who wrote the novel "The Tale of Genji" a thousand years ago, has by far the highest index score – 86 on a scale of 1 to 100. But, that is in competition just with other Japanese authors, not all of the world’s authors. [86 is indeed very high. Goethe, as second in Western literature, has 81; generally, the score is the equivalent of second to fourth place in various lists.]

The highest-scoring woman in any of the sciences – no surprise – is Marie Curie in Physics, with a score in the 40s (on a scale where Newton and Einstein are tied at 100). The highest in Western Literature is Virginia Woolf [not in the top-20, cf. above]. None of the highest-scoring women in the other categories are major figures.

(http://www.isteve.com/2003_QA_with_Charles_Murray_on_Human_Accomplishment.htme)

Scrabble

A similar topic arose around a Swedish blog poste, where I made the following comment (in translation, with minor alterations):

A couple of days ago, we had a debate on e.g. whether women can reach 50/50 among professors under fair conditions. Reading this [the linked-to] post, I contemplated sports and whether they can be used as indicators:

Firstly, we have to remove all too physical sports, but even where e.g. archery or pistol shooting is concerned, men appear to dominate (however, here women occasionally and legitimately beat the best men). Even in most equestrian disciplines, men appear to be slightly ahead on the world-class level, despite more women being interested in horses and riding (while it could be the other way around with shooting).

Remove everything physical and look at pure head sports: The most obvious example is chess, with a very clear male dominance. Chess may be too military for women to be interested or give men an advantage through spatial thinking. What, then, could give women a similar advantage? Scrabble! What does Wikipedia say about world champions. Well, for Englishw there is no single woman listed as champion or runner-up over 19 years of championships. (Reservation for misinterpretation of names.) The Spanishw and Frenchw (language) world championships contain a number of women, but men are still in the majority. Notably, as the sport matured, the proportion of (winner, runner-up) women decreased. This even though women should dominate completely based on in-born ability and (probably) larger interest.

Now the question is: Are these difference a sign of sex discrimination or of differences between men and women? (Not necessarily in ability—it could also be motivation, interest, competitiveness, family priorization, ...)

Occam says “differences”.

Is is likely that the same differences will affect who becomes a professor, a board member, or a prime minister?

Occam says “yes”.


Side-note:

It could be argued that Scrabble is not a “pure” word game, but contains elements of e.g. spatial thinking. This would slightly weaken the point I made in the original context (that some combination of factors will make a male “surplus” among professors the expected and entirely fair result under equal opportunity); however, it would also strengthen the relevance of the text to the point made on this page: Few or no non-trivial activities focus solely on one ability and men do appear to be more competent with regard to combinations of abilities and/or some general, all-influencing ability (possibly “g”)—at least in the top ranges.


Marilyn again

Interestingly, it appears that the above-mentioned Marilyn vos Savant has addressed a similar topic of men vs. women in generale based on scientific prowess (while the above focuses mainly on the upper extremes)—with a different conclusion.

To look at a few of her statements with a critical eye (I strongly recommend reading her article first, for context):

The average IQ of females is equal to the average IQ of males.

This is a matter of dispute: Modern research has repeatedly (but not consistently) indicated a male advantage even on average. In addition, IQ tests are often deliberately constructed to give the same average, which could make a lack of difference misleading. (We should also bear in mind that IQ is an imperfect measure of intelligence and that different abilities may leave people at the same IQ, but with different aptitude for e.g. science. This could strike in either direction, however.)

No evidence indicates that the sciences attract the brightest people. The unspoken assumption that science attracts the smartest people is the foundation upon which we have built the conclusion: “If the sciences are filled with men, men must be smarter, unless women have a good excuse for being absent.”

While the assumption part is true, the assumption is not a poor one and there is some evidence in favour of it (contrary to Marilyn’s claim; but, no, I am not aware of deep and detailed investigation of the best and brightest). Cf. [1]e, [2]e, [3]e, [4]e. More importantly, however, this misses the point: The sciences require more brain power than most other occupations—and the higher we go in success, the more brain power is needed (in particular in the harder sciences). If someone is a world-renowned physicist or mathematician, it can safely be assumed that he (as noted, men dominate here) is extraordinary in terms of intelligence. The one reservation that should be raised is that some proportion of these people may have lopsided mental talents. In addition, if we look at other areas than science where intelligent people would be expected or look at the top people of almost any field, men usually dominate there too.

Even professionally administered IQ tests are primitive measures of intelligence. Intelligence tests are fine for practical purposes, but not for analytical ones. Too much unavoidable bias (not prejudice) is present: Any test-maker (not just IQ test-creators) must first develop standards upon which the test-takers will be judged. In other words, to test intelligence, the designer must formulate a definition of intelligence. Now, who could possibly do this?

[discussion of problems with definitions]

This misses the point about extremes: IQ is but one example of men tending to extremes in a different manner from women, and IQ is just one indication of men having better cards when it comes to high-end success (and worse cards when it comes to low-end failure).

Further, if we look at averages, her statements merely amount to IQ alone being inconclusive—not to IQ being refuted as a measure of differences between men and women.

(Depending on her exact meaning, I would possible see the second sentence as turned around: Intelligence tests are fine for analytical purposes, in particular to make predictions about groups; but are far weaker for practical purposes, e.g. making predictions about an individual.)

Perhaps most convincing of all are these facts from other outposts in the animal kingdom:

•Female chimpanzees learn complex tasks as easily as males.
•Female gorillas can be taught sign language as well as males.
•Female guide dogs are as capable at their work as males.
•Female dolphins perform practical jokes as often as males.
•Female parrots are able to mime and talk as well as males.
•Female rats and mice run mazes just as efficiently as males.
Would you prefer to adopt a male puppy because you thought you could teach him more tricks? No, you know better. (And we don’t find more female moths in our light fixtures!) Why should anyone think that human females are an exception?!

On the contrary, the convincing power of these statements is close to nil—even if we assume that they are true (the samples and investigations used are unlikely to be conclusive). Consider that anything can be proved with cherry-picked examples (a more holistic approach is needed); that language is considered an area where women have an advantage (and if we want to make conclusions about women based on other-species females, we have to allow the opposite direction too), which makes three of the six examples potential indicators of lower overall intelligence/ability levels in females; that practical jokes are not (to me) a sign of intelligence (and, generally, that quantity does not say anything about quality); that a deficit in one regard can be evened out by an advantage in an other (there is some evidence for women having a better memory than men, e.g., which would obviously affect speed of learning); that the issue of extremes is neglected; and that group differences (that need not be very large in order to have a major impact) may not be detectable in the experiments made.

As an excursion: Her initial statement

Yes, and in my opinion, upbringing is the No. 1 cause—not discrimination, conscious or not, from men. Just as significant is the fact (not the problem) that many women are far more interested in their families than outside work, and society clearly approves.

presupposes that it is society, not (inborn) group differences, that are responsible for differences in behaviour. This is (at least when taken to exclusion) a highly dubious assumption that does not match the current state of science. One thing we agree upon, at least: Discrimination of women is a comparatively small issue in the modern Western world—indeed, in some countries, e.g. Sweden, women have the unfair advantage by a considerable margin.