Girls Are Smarter Than Boys, So What Goes Wrong In Math And Science? [Infographic]

If girls have slightly higher IQs and get better grades, why are their numbers disproportionately low in math and science careers?

I still remember learning in grade school that men were better at math and science, and women were better at English and art. The teacher (who was a woman), presented the information as a general fact--noting that these were just loose guidelines that could differ from person to person--and I didn’t question it for a second. You know, until I grew up a bit and realized the very premise was preposterous.

But as this infographic (which is really a narrative of sorts) shows us, it’s not enough to right the wrongs of gender perception when people grow older, the damage has already been done.

A lot of these facts are likely nuggets you’ve heard before, like girls performing worse on tests when they are required to mark their gender. But seeing each factoid lined up in pseudo-chronological order, from a grade schooler to a professional, it seems inevitable that women don’t stake their place in industries already dominated by men.

The picture is incomplete, of course. We don’t see how the comparative self-esteem of men evolves over the same time. But it’s safe to say that, when only 16% of students in engineering classes are women, we’re doing something wrong--especially when we can all benefit from some fresh perspective.

Twenty years or so after that day in grade school, I’m a writer and my wife is a scientist. I guess that, given these gender-professional norms, you could make a joke about who wears the pants in my family. But it could never offend either of us. No matter what we do, she’ll still be smarter than me anyway.

[Hat tip: Engineering Degree]

[Image: Library of Congress]

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93 Comments

  • Don Sata

    Consider four factors:

    1. Different maturity cycles. Men and women mature at different pace. Females mature faster and stop maturing earlier (early 20's) to be fertile at younger age . Males mature more slowly and continue maturing up to their late 20's. That is why girls' intelligence measures higher at younger ages.

    2. Different interests. Abstract thinking, focusing in single tasks for a long time, spatial tasks and tool manipulation are areas in which women on average are less proficient and less interested than men across all cultures because of different brain structures meant to create job specialization.

    3. Schools are designed for girls. The learning style of boys clashes with the way K12 teaching is designed on which women have easier time getting good grades but we all know that good grades are not strictly correlated with intelligence and learning. Good grades just show that you like pleasing teachers and doing neat home works.

  • a pissed of man

    It is scientifically proven that men are advantaged when it comes to mental capacity. Grades say nothing about intelligence, it just shows how dedicated you are and how motivated you are. Bollocks.

  • Anna

    Dude, don't worry, you're not doing ANYTHING wrong. I'm a child, and we did a survey in class a few weeks back on what we wanna do when we grow up. I personally, want to be a cartoonist. About 50% of the girls in my grade want to be vets (I don't think they realize they actually have to CUT OPEN the animals. They just like pretty ponies and kitties) 20% wanted to be writers, 29% kindergarten/1st grade teachers, and the other 1% was some actually unpredictable and cool stuff.
    They boys wanted to be three things: Football players, video game designers, and policemen. Come'on guys, we're FIFTH GRADERS, grow up already. One boy wanted to be a marine biologist, though. That was pretty neat.
    My point is, who really even wants to be a scientist? I asked my classmates, boys and girls alike, all of them agreed it didn't seem like fun. It seems pretty boring the way I see it. If girls really do get better grades (and they do, I've seen it firsthand) stop worrying about them. They're doing fine, it actually makes me feel kinda bad that they proved themselves to be better than boys, but you still insist they need to do more and get into science. They're already awesome, I'm truly more concerned about boys and how many of them want to do things that require no brains at all. I'm sure I'm smart enough to be a scientist, I just don't want to.
    There. I'm a girl. Don't I sound smart?

  • Guest

    You're an idiot if you think that video-game designers and policemen are less smart than veterinarians and teachers.

  • Matt

    On average, girls may be slightly smarter. Maybe by that one IQ point. But there is a reason for that. Girls occupy the middle space on the IQ bell curve. The people with the lowest IQs are likely to be men, dropping the mean down a notch. Then, looking at the middle and slightly above, there are more women on average than men. But when we look at the top; those with the highest IQs, we see more men. So in actual fact, the 'smartest' people are men, but because the 'stupidest' are also men, the mean IQ for men is lower than that of women.

    This isn't to downplay the fact that proportionately there aren't enough women in maths and science as they're aren't, but saying that women are smarter than men from the outset is plainly wrong.

  • Sathom

    As there are different sorts
    of intelligence, I'm not sure I get this "one gender is smarter than
    the other" crap to start with. Is a mathematician "smarter" than a
    philosopher? I also remember a woman once staring at me surprised
    when I assured her I was listenting to her while working a computer. She
    really was convinced that men can only do one thing/follow one thought
    at a time, eg. are unable to multitask, because some studies claim so.
    Other thought coming up: a friend's daughter hates math, but is already
    now a great actor on stage, and this kid sure knows what she wants.
    Long story short - gender stereotypes are bull, either way round. As
    are studies. Or what the media claim was in a study (which more often
    than not wasn't). As to the comments, they match up to the usual degree of idiocy.
    Personally, I feel we should look for children's individual talents and
    encourage them independent of sex, instead of subjugating them to
    gender stereotypes. Just turning the tables won't serve anybody well.

  • Chris Raymond

    I won't get into the issues of data (mis)interpretation, etc., but I will share my personal experience as a middle-aged woman. I was really "smart" in school, graduated top of a 1970s era high school class of over 700. I took advanced math courses and did pretty well. I kind of avoided advanced science classes, because they were so adolescent boy dominated and I was a shy bookworm. My high school guidance counselor suggested I look into a community college!

    Fast forward over the course of my professional life, as a successful science journalist and editor, now a graphic and web designer, and I find myself thinking I really should have gone into one of the sciences. I have a very analytical mind, and I approach design more from the content communication end, though I do have a lot of creativity. But I feel that I have wasted my intellectual skills producing design for other people's visions. I think if I had been given more support and encouragement from counselors and teachers in high school, I would certainly have had a more fulfilling career in the sense of not feeling like my intelligence and analytic skills are kind of wasted in the field I am in. Of course, when you don't build the foundation of math and science skills in high school and college, it's hard to make up later on.

  • Matthew Johnson82

    The abilities of men are subjugated to the needs of women. We have always lived in a "women first" society and this necessarily involves men having to sacrifice their own aims, ambitions and imperatives to those of women.

    Women by contrast think the world was "designed for them" which behaviour marks out their priorities for the remainder of their lives : " me first and last"

  • Appleabbyhead

    I understand. I am enrolling in Aerospace Engineering this fall and I am female. But I believe that women and men have different roles. But any man or woman has the freedom to choose their profession. But, as my pastor says, on Mother's Day, Mothers and Mary get praised, but on Father's Day, all of the fathers are damned to hell. Men are essential to this world and I am very grateful that we, females, and males can compete against each other in fields of math and science.

  • Punkass

    What an incredibly misogynistic viewpoint. I find it remarkable that you can think that men are somehow subjugated to women in what is very clearly a male- dominated world, particularly in business and politics. One needs only to see the salary differences between men and women in similar positions, or the fact that the US has yet to elect a female president, to get a flavor of how the world works. 

    The 'women first' society you speak of is surely a misunderstanding of a chivalrous reference to the notion that men hold open doors for women. As a woman, I've never once been in any situation where I thought society's general view is that it's 'women first', according to your use of the term. Quite the contrary. 

  • Sfstclair

    I'm an engineer, but opted to be a SAHM for better family balance. Engineering is still a field with very little flexibility for PT or off site work. I think that is partly why you see attrition from the field, more so than intelligence or ability. Also, its a lower paying field than the medical route. I know nurses that work a 2-3 day (12 hrs) week and earn as much as an engineer full time. A full time doc would earn twice as much. Could be women are making the "smartest" choices as far as life balance that today's science fields offer.

  • Canyon30083

    I agree.  Who are the morons that publish this butch Propaganda.  

    First, it the Biography of my Vagina.  Now it is forced statistics that seeks to subjugate men and boys even further.   Let's be sure to tell all the little boys how stupid they are, unless they sit still and act like a girl.  How about designing classrooms where boys are not strapped to their chairs by the psychological whips and chains employed by female teachers.Let's have a test about hunting wild boar on a deserted island see how the 'fair' sex fare?

  • vaneSSa

    Mark - this is AWESOME. A paper of mine got published a month ago, and it was legit about the idea that the reason that girls don't pursue higher level math is not due to their actual intelligence, but due to media influences that prevent them from even WANTING be labelled as 'math savvy.' If you're interested, it's called "Imagining a World Where Paris Hilton Loves Mathematics." The thesis version is available here, as well as the shortened published paper based on my thesis work:

    http://themathguru.org/nottobr...

    Thank you so much for this awesome visual - it rocks!

  • Anna

    Im sure you're little article is really cute, I'm a real female child, can I try to test your theory?
    Ok, I LIKE math. Don't hate it, don't love it. I get B+'s to A's in it. I consider myself Very Smart, but math is boring. I'm really sorry, but you're idea has a lot of holes. Who WANTS to to come home with an F, be called stupid by the boy sitting next to you, and probably get into a bad college? No, just no. Girls don't think like that. You're undermining our abilities. By being a feminist, you're actually kinda making things worse. We don't need a pep squad. I'm good at math and proud of it..

  • jill

    very interesting,it has always been time for change and woman need to make the changes in order to empower ourselves. we sit back and watch our daughters make the same errors as we have, yet we encourage them to create niches that are good for working mothers,rather than the sciences and then motherhood and marriage or is that marriage and then mothrhood. i think that maybe we as woman are happy at moaning about the facts but deep down we prefer the role we have.......Jill

  • Jimbo123454321

    As blatantly rude and blunt as his comment may be, Mike, possibly
    unwittingly, makes the valid point that boys do typically score higher in math and science on standardized tests (which, as a norm, do not require any real knowledge of a subject and are solely intended to observe how discrete sections of the mind work). Societal causes aside, specific neurological evidence (which is not, by the way, poppycock). As the American Academy of Neurobiology states, "Males possess more tightly packed and more numerous nerve cells (neurons) than females," while "Females tend to have more neuropil, the fibular tissue that fills the
    space between nerve cell bodies and contains mainly nerve cell processes
    (synapses, dendrites and axons) that enable neurons to communicate with
    numerous other nerve cells." This evidence nearly explicitly explains why males tend to be better at math and science than females and why females tend to be more effective communicators. In the argument for males alone it is stated that the "functional reserve may be greater as a larger number of nerve cells are present." This larger reserve of memory and processing is crucial to scientific fields. However it also holds true that, despite what a male-oriented society may preach, females are better communicators and are, therefore, better and more suited leaders overall.