06 January 2010

Sex Differences in Math Ability Real and Important

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The talent required to do mathematics at the level of a Fields Medalist is extraordinary. The pool of competitors spans the adult population of the world not yet turned 40 on January 1 of the year Medals are awarded -- approximately 2 billion....On average, there are three Fields winners per award year, so that the ratio of competitors to slots, N /NS is approximately 7 x 108. From this we estimate the minimum mathematical ability of Fields Medalists to be an incredible 5.8 SD greater than the male population mean. Approximately 1.3 percent of the Medalists will be women. Since the prize is conferred quadrennially, we expect a female Fields Medalist to emerge approximately once every 103 years, that is, every 4/[3(0.013)] years. None has yet surfaced. _SexDifferencesMathAptitude
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A recent study claiming to find "few gender differences in math abilities" is a good example of deception by "science headlines." Published in the most recent "Psychological Bulletin" (an APA publication), the study looked at TIMSS and PISA scores for almost 500,000 students aged 14-16 years, in 69 countries. Although differences in math abilities between boys and girls do not develop most strongly until well into puberty -- around age 16 to 18 -- and grow larger thereafter, the Villanova researchers chose to look at younger students. Even so, the study found consistent differences in math aptitude between boys and girls.

SAT scores in the US consistently show a significant gap of almost 40 points between males and females who take the test.

Sex differences in math and spatial abilities go deep -- to the genes. Billions of dollars have been spent over the past few decades to bring the numbers of female math PhDs and Fields Prize winners into parity with male numbers. To no avail.
Men and women exhibit other behavioral differences which are apparent almost from birth. To some extent they mirror sex-differentiated behavior in animals. Boys are more aggressive, girls more nurturing. Female babies react more to facial expressions, males to moving objects. By adolescence these behaviors have morphed into girls' interest in social relationships, and boys' interest in machines and devices. Obviously, such divergence of interests influences career choices. Girls lean more toward fields like psychology, while similarly talented men incline toward engineering or physical science. A study6 by Lubinski and Benbow followed the careers of mathematically precocious youth from age 13 to 23. All were in the top 1% of mathematical ability. At age 23 less than 1% of the girls were pursuing doctorates in mathematics, engineering, or physical science, while almost 8% of the boys were. Equal aptitude not withstanding, girls pursued doctorates in biology at more than twice the rate of boys, and in the humanities at almost three times the rate of boys. For all these reasons, we should regard 29% as an upper bound to the percentage of women in the technological work force. In practice, their numbers will be significantly less. _Source

Even the relatively few girls who are genetically endowed with superior math talent tend to choose non-mathematical pursuits in life.  In the modern free choice era of education, there can be no doubt that women make these life choices because of their own inner desires.

Of course, there are also innate gender differences that work to the advantage of women.   These differences are celebrated by feminists, not denied. ;-)

While women have been able to approach 50% of math BA's and math MA's, the genetic ceiling seems to be holding down the proportion of math PhDs for women near 25%. (2005 Gallagher, Kauffman) As easy as PhD's can be to get at some institutions-- and as desperately as women are recruited to these programs-- the low level of math PhDs for women suggests either a shortage of interest or a shortage of aptitude.  The same phenomenon is evident in the more math intensive and theoretical areas within physics, chemistry, computer science, and engineering.  And if you look at elite institution PhDs, the differences are even greater.

Denial of innate differencs in aptitude between men and women, and between various ethnic groups, is an important structural support of leftist egalitarian philosophies and politics.  But genuine honest science continues to reveal these important differences.  No amount of leftist resource misallocation  will change the underlying nature of the facts.

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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