The XX Factor

Subtracting the Math Gender Gap

Poor women. While normal intelligence can co-exist with ovaries, our delicate lady-brains can’t contain genius-level intelligence. Men and women might have the same average intelligence, but men have more variation, and thus more idiots AND genuises. At least that’s what former Harvard President and current Obama advisor Larry Summers implied in 2005 when he said that biological differences might explain the lack of female mathematics professors.

If Summers was right and biological differences are to blame, there should be fewer math-genius girls the whole world over. However, a new study that looked at worldwide data found that countries with greater gender equity had just as many girls as boys in the top 1 percent of mathematics. An article in NewsDaily presents the take of the researchers, Janet Hyde and Janet Mertz:

“Analysis of data from 15-year-old students participating in the 2003 Program for International Student Assessment likewise indicated that as many, if not more girls than boys scored above the 99th percentile in Iceland , Thailand , and the United Kingdom ,” Mertz and Hyde [the study’s authors] wrote.

Several different international tests show the same pattern, including the International Math Olympics, Mertz said.

So why is there a gender gap in the United States? It just might have something to do with the discouraging message that a person in possession of breasts is biologically incapable of doing that ever-so-manly math. As Mertz said,

“If girls don’t have equal educational opportunities or if they know if they learn the material there won’t be jobs available to them, why bother, they seek something else.”