Women in intellectual pursuits

Disclaimer: This in no way is intended to be a flame, or to propogate any kind of sexism.

I’ve noticed for a while now that when it comes to intellectual pursuits (I can only speak for the ones I’m regularly exposed to) women do not do well against men at the highest level.
That is to say, when it comes to perfect information games like Chess or Go the best few men seem to be far better than the best few women.
Similarly for (this is my opinion based on little evidence) games like Bridge.
Furthermore if one looks at field which are traditionally associated with intellectual ability such as nuclear physics or pure mathematics one still finds the greatest proponents in this day and age are still men (even if one restricts one’s self to the up and coming).
I am interested in knowing exactly why this discripency exists.

I personally do not believe that this gap represents physical inadiquacies with the female brain or in any sort of genetic difference between the the two sexes. But it is something that must be atleast be considered.

I have heard of various theories that attempt to explain this gap in terms of social pressure and conditioning.

I’m interested in cites for such theories as well as discussions of their validity.

But in general why do people think that in this day and age there arn’t a few incredible women who can match men at intellectual feats ?

(This is my first thread so don’t hurt me :-). I appologise for the lack of quality control of the contents of this post, its been a long night. )

Here’s a metastudy that documents differences in mental ability between the two sexes. Some conjectured explanations of the differences can be found toward the end.

The metastudy essentially points out a greater discripency between female and male measured intelligence.
I’m interested in the more particular question, Why is there a large gap between the absolute best in the two sexes?
The metastudy does find that most studies found a very large gap between male and female ability when considering the only the best performers.

It conjectures (understanding gained from a quick read) that the male of the specie is genetically predisposed towards greater variablity and thus tends to better performance because the male needs to be more adaptable.

I’m wondering if there are any studies that seeks to explain the difference in more environmental terms. Or is it accepted fact that the smartest male is intellectually superior to the smartest female by virtue of being born male.

I’m mostly interested in the difference in very analytical intelligence particularly the type required for perfect information games. Nevertheless, I would also find examining the gender gap in terms of different facets of intelligence interesting.

For the same reason that Anika Sorensen could only barely compete in the PGA: the LPGA golfers just aren’t as good.

Why is that? It’s a numbers game: there are fewer female golfers overall than male golfers. Male golf is more competitive than female simply because there’s more of them competing; the result is better golfers at the top of the male league than the female league. One specific thing that was pointed out to me: in the PGA, all the players shape their shots, meaning control their hooks and slices to target where the ball will land, which is harder to do well than to hit straight, but is required to win; in the LPGA, it’s sufficient to hit perfectly straight every time to win.

Likewise all the fields you mention. There’s more men than women in them, so you’d expect, statistically, that the top practitioner would be male.

Why are there more men than women in those fields today? Because, historically, those are male dominated fields, for reasons that are basically sexist. We need a few more generations for the numbers to even out. Notice that in fields where women and men are generally equally represented (or getting there), there are far more women at the top levels. Law, for instance: women are much better represented in law in the U.S., and two of the nine supreme court justices are female.

Golf and chess are not comparable. The physical differences between men and women are obvious. Mental differences are much more difficult to quantify.

Still hansel means to say that if you have a bigger group you have a better chance at a top performer.

That doesn't explain why one or another woman hasn't stood out and was equal or almost better than men in those areas. Naturally as women start to enter male oriented jobs we will see top female scientists and minds.  Still will the top very top have any women in them ?

Education is changing a lot and women exposed to more analytical skills than was traditional will grow in skill areas males dominate. Still the top women will be exceptions or normal occurences ? One Einstein a generation doesn't make a trend. 

This discussion will end up like all nature or nurture debates... undecided. Thou in my opinion nature still has a lot to say. Women will tend to dominate with their verbal and social skills most jobs... high science I have my doubts thou.

What about Marie Curie?

Seriously, there have been notable women scientists and inventors over time. A simple Google search will reveal many, both historic and currrent.

I’m with Hansel. The sample is too small.

I think you’re misunderstanding my point, which is that the fact of the top male in field X being better than the top female in field X is adequately explained by the disproportionate number of males in field X. In fields where the gender breakdown is closer to equal, the same discrepancy is likewise reduced. You should see the same sort of discrepancy if you ask “how come people with brown eyes dominate these fields over people with blue eyes?” Because there’s a lot more of them in the field, that’s why.

To be clear, I don’t think there are appreciable mental differences between men and women, and the fact the OP points out is nothing more than a statistical result of our sexist history in those fields.

The facts do not back up this view, at least as seen in bridge. There is no substantial discrepancy between the numbers of men and women that play. There are occasions when women have played on top bridge teams, but the current rankings show that not one woman is in the top 50 world grandmasters. See http://www.worldbridge.org/Dept/mp/masters.htm#open.

Approximately 27 out of 186 American Grand Life Masters are women. There are not six times as many men players as women.

Ahh. A subject which has had much relevance for me; I’m a physicist, specifically an astrophysicist. I can only talk about the UK specifically, and Europe generally, but this is what has been found over here about female physicists in academia.

Its not a question of mental ability, it just appears to be the case that as one goes through the heirachy, more and more women drop out. Why? Because it seems that the system does not work in a woman’s favour. Almost equal numbers of male and female students do A-Level (advanced) physics at high school (on average). However, as one goes through the system, fewer and fewer women stay on to do physics degrees, PhDs, postdocs etc etc. This isn’t due to any sort of difference in brain power, I don’t think. However, as one progresses through the academic heirachy, one must spend more and more time publishing papers, doing research, essentially at the office, working. Most of the physicists I know (myself included) are total workaholics.

Also, taking time out to start a family, would for a man, not be too much of an issue. For a woman however, maternity leave etc would have to be taken into consideration - time away from research, away from publishing anything. This is very very damaging for an academic career.

So essentially, what I’m saying is, is that the reason you could probably name 10 male physicists, but peter out after about 5 female physicists, is the nature of the system. cite

A Danish professor of behavioural psychology, Helmuth Nyborg from the psychological institute at the University of Aarhus, has just released his latest study: Scientific Study of General Intelligence, involving interviews and tests of some 450 people in 21 intelligence tests. In this he reaches the rather controversial conclusion that men are on average 5% more intelligent that women. This is not something that affects 95% of the population, but for the small percentage of people with very low or high intelligence it’s much more likely you’d find a man than a woman. Instead of IQ he uses a G-Factor which is supposed to be a broader and better tool to measure intelligence. When G-factor is translated to IQ then average is around 100. When we examine people with an IQ of 130 then there’ll be about eight men for each woman. At IQ 145 there’ll be about 120 men for each woman. He claims the results can not be used as a tool at job interviews and the like, but it can be used to explain why there’re many more men than women in certain professions (engineers, mathematics, theoretical physics, and the highest leadership posts), and further that it’s a very bad idea to try force equality by way of gender based quota systems.

  • Rune

I agree with Angua

My husband is in a very intellectual academic environment. He started out post-docing with several women. He and they began to climb the academic ladder at similar rates. In fact, several of the women became assistant professors before he did, and at better universities.

But now they are all in their late 30s. Several of the women are starting to realize that if they ever want children, they need to start now. As they have babies, many are working fewer hours or doing less stressful experiments. Even with your child in day care, it’s difficult to do the 12+ hours a day that are necessary to be competitive in an academic environment.

On the other hand, my husband and I are due soon with our 4th baby. I stay home with the children, which allows him to keep up the insane working pace necessary to rise up in his field. I wish he would slow down and be with the kids more, but the point is that he can have 4 children and a highly challenging job.

For women, it’s not so easy.

IMO there is some merit to the notion that evolutionarily, women do the reproductive heavy lifting, are more physically and genetically robust than men, and are more “centered” intellectually, with fewer geniuses and extremely, analytically gifted individuals at the more extreme ends of the bell curve, but also fewer mental defectives.

> That doesn’t explain why one or another woman hasn’t stood out and was >equal or almost better than men in those areas. Naturally as women start to >enter male oriented jobs we will see top female scientists and minds. Still will >the top very top have any women in them ?

I think we do. Take a look at the relatively young field of computer science (my own field) (I am a woman). Ada Byron was huge, simply huge–I think it’s fair to credit her with the idea of a reprogrammable (i.e. general-purpose) computer, as opposed to Babbage’s single-purpose device. Admiral Grace Hopper was another of the field’s giants. More recently, Dorothy Denning is extremely influential in the field of computer security.

I think Angua and autz have it right–the time in life when geniuses are laying the foundation for their life’s work coincides with the window of opportunity for starting a family. They say women’s ovum start to decline in the late twenties and are pretty much history by forty–but that’s exactly when folk in intellectual pursuits are doing Great Things.
When I was in grad school, it was not uncommon for the guys to have young children, if not newborns. None of the women did.

You know, philosophy is another area where women have gone far. In two different universities in which I took philosophy classes, at least a third of the faculty was female, and that proportion extended to tenured faculty. And if the topic wasn’t historical philosophy, then the reading material also contained a pretty significant proportion of female philosophers. There’s a definite trend where, as the field has opened up to women, women have climbed the ladder in general proportion as well.

BTW, in both universities, philosophy was not an area that could be accused of loading up on women for reasons of political correctness. There was a palpable hostility, often on the part of the female professors, towards interdisciplinary fields like women’s studies (and the departments they spawned) as wishy washy postmodernist claptrap.

Exactly. Its said that a person’s best work is done in their twenties and thirties (I’m not convinced by this, but hey). It is precisely at this time that a woman, if she wants a family must act. As an academic myself, I work 12+ hour days, anything less is seen as being a bit of a slacker. Now how on Earth is a woman supposed to be able to have a family and work these long hours? It is simply not possible.

What is needed is a culture shift, away from long working hours, and the pressure to publish publish publish. As it stands, I personally cannot reconcile the two ideas of having a family and a career, I just can’t see it being possible in my field.

Regarding the study WinstonSmith mentioned: According to this (word-doc, only in Danish), there are some problems with the gender parts of it. The main problems they describe are:
[ul][li]Nyborg hasn’t (despite repeated requests) made his raw data available, so it’s difficult to determine whether his work satisfies the ususal criteria for scientific research.[/li][li]The sample for the gender difference part is very small, only 52 persons, and the differences he found aren’t big enough to be statistically significant.[/li][li]Nyborg changes the way he calculates the g-score midways. If I understand the site correctly, he introduces gender as a factor in calculating g, and then uses these results to determine if gender is a factor in g. That sounds suspiciously like a self-fulfilling prophecy.[/ul][/li]<disclaimer 1> I haven’t read Nyborg’s report, so I’ve no idea how accurate this criticism is.

<disclaimer 2> This isn’t my field (I’m more used to thinking of g as 9.8 meters per second squared, not some hard-to-measure stuff inside people’s heads :slight_smile: ), and I’m not confident I understood the last objection correctly. The first and second - if true - are pretty damning, though.


From your points, I think that the last one is the most damning. You simply cannot change the way you calculate something halfway through using the “effect” you’re trying to measure in the calculation. Its just silly. This isn’t my field either, but I can see where someone’s trying to follow an agenda.

Still even thou we are “modern” humans we carry traces of our primitive humans. Just because women “are” equal now doesnt mean they were built equal. Men are inherently stronger than women physically, why is the possibility that our brains are built differently so absurd ? Might not be politically correct… but its very plausible.

Women have outpaced men in many areas due to better communication skills. Women have better peripheral (spelling I know) vision than men... women tend to use both sides of the brain more than men. Men use more one side at a time. Women recuperate better from accidents with brain loss due to more flexible brain "arrangements". Overlapping of function in different areas. (I got this from my ex who studied neurology). Men have other advantages... but most are relaed to hand eye coordination. Not very useful in modern laboratories.

 Ok babies are a major issue and certainly spoil any chances at "greatness". Still in a babyless world would women compete equally at the TOP levels is a case for speculation. Education might have to be reinforced where each sex is weaker... 

 I know that being in a modern society we can overide most of our primitive heritage... but can we overide all of it ? Can we deny it for Political Correctness sake only ? Boys are falling behind in basic education for example and might need a different approach.

In a baby-less world there wouldn’t be any people!
[sub]sorry … couldn’t resist … carry on :slight_smile: [/sub]