Thursday, March 31, 2011

Women and Math -- Men and Sex

Mad About the Gender Gap? Blame Nature

By Penelope Trunk | March 31, 2011

Author Bio

Biography: Penelope Trunk Penelope Trunk is the founder of three startups, most recently Brazen Careerist, a professional social network for young people. Previously she worked in marketing at Fortune 500 companies including Mattel and Hyundai. Her blog about career advice,, receives half a million visits a month and is syndicated in more than 200 newspapers. She frequently appears as a workplace commentator on CNN, 20/20 and FOX News. She's also the author of Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success, a bestselling career advice book for Generation Y.

According to a report in Nature News “A 2008 survey of U.S. universities by the National Science Foundation revealed that fewer than 30% of PhDs in the physical sciences were awarded to women. Higher up the ranks, women make up only about 10% of full professorships in physics-related disciplines.”

The question is, does this gender gap matter? Does it warrant policy change? Affirmative action? Encouraging girls in math? The answer to all these questions is a resounding no. Most gender gaps have closed in the US workplace. The remaining gaps are natural and fine for a respectful, equal-opportunity workplace.

For example, women are not great at math. We women can get by-in a world of mediocre performances. But in the world of hotshot math, women are outclassed. We should stop worrying about how to make things more equal and instead understand our gender differences.

Yet a study from psychologists Stephen Ceci and Wendy Williams of Cornell University found no evidence of gender bias during the interview and hiring process for science positions. What they found was there were simply fewer highly qualified women.

Live Science reports that women are uncomfortable in a male-dominated setting, and argues that maybe this is a reason there are few women infiltrating the hard sciences. However, that women have a hard time getting into an all-male department does not explain the change in English departments across college campuses. Those were once as male-dominated as the math departments, but women somehow overcame their anxiety of being in male-dominated situations and managed to infiltrate the Chaucer discussion.

It’s clear that men and women have different brains. For example, men always want to have more sex than women. You can find women who love sex, men who hate it, etc, but in terms of large populations, the male brain is much more wired to have indiscriminate sex.

One fundamental difference between the two brains is gray matter. And University of California at Irvine released solid data to explain why men are good at math.

“Evolution has created two different types of brains designed for equally intelligent behavior,” wrote Richard Haier, professor of psychology in the Department of Pediatrics and longtime human intelligence researcher, who led the study.

“In general, men have approximately 6.5 times the amount of gray matter related to general intelligence than women, and women have nearly 10 times the amount of white matter related to intelligence than men. Gray matter represents information processing centers in the brain, and white matter represents the networking of—or connections between—these processing centers.”

Gene Expression published a chart that shows the difference in brain makeup. This site also does a good job explaining why we should not suppress the discussion of male dominance in math. Just because we are uncomfortable with it doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Now that we have a few decades of data coming from girls who were encouraged to do math, we can say, with a decent amount of certainty, that the average performing girl is as good at math as the average performing boy.

The patterns Asperger Syndrome makes in populations also sheds light on extreme intelligence in men vs. women. At this point, we have enough data about Asperger’s syndrome to can say that the people who are incredibly terrible with language (white matter) or incredibly gifted with mathematical thinking (gray matter) are generally boys. Boys, rather than girls, populate the two extreme ends of the bell curve. In the middle, that is people who are decent at math, science and engineering, are equally boys and girls.

So it should not be surprising or controversial that studies repeatedly find that there are large gender differences among extremely gifted math students. More boys are gifted.

Now the world starts making sense. This is why there are more men in math and science positions in universities. This is why the hotshot companies in Silicon Valley are full of male engineers and not women. And this is why we need to stop complaining that science departments are boys clubs. It’s not just the department—high-end scientific thinking is a boys club

And before you get up in arms about gender differences, think about all the women who feel they are better suited than their husbands to stay home with the kids. This is not gender discrimination. This is millions of years of evolution that you simply can’t deny. Saying that men are better suited for one thing and women are better suited for another is not putting people down, or boxing them out - it’s allowing people to be their true selves. We already had a generation of boys playing with dolls. It was stupid. They turned the dolls into guns. These gender preferences are not social constructs, they are the result of evolution.

And anyway, maybe the real answer to why women don’t go into higher math is that the problems men solve using higher math do not interest women. For example, here’s a mathematician who has provided a proof that shows it’s mathematically impossible for men to have more sexual partners than women. Seriously.

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Blogger muddleglum said...

Another point is that the brain's region for decoding curves is (normally curved) closer to the center of pleasure in men than women. In other words, men get more pleasure from curves. Where are the curves? Women's hip-waist-chest? The curves of a rock in a flight? The beauty of math?

In other words, women don't tend to be attracted toward some subjects like men are. I'm a male. I like to look at women. I also love the flight of a hail-mary pass in American football and think a lot of mathematical equations

I also have a degree in math and physics.

Now, even assuming two persons have exactly the same ability in a subject, if one derives pleasure from it more deeply than the other, which one would still be grinding on when the going gets tough?

Ohhhh! Did you see THAT normal curve?

10:36 AM  
Blogger no_slappz said...


thanks for commenting

11:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saying that the "Boy's Club" of high scientific thinking is due entirely to nature is outdated and dangerous thinking. I know many young women who are equally capable, if not better, at mathematics than their male peers.

Pursuing a career in mathematics only becomes intimidating when we are told that it goes against our very nature as women to enjoy doing and to be good at mathematics. It becomes even more discouraging when we hear this message from our less open minded professors.

I find beauty in mathematics. I am a woman.

12:02 AM  

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