This week, First Lady Michelle Obama decided to joke about the obvious superiority of the female sex. While giving a speech at the U.S. – Africa Leaders Summit about creating educational opportunities for young women in the developing world, Obama noted that schooling for young women is a necessity because it helps stabilize a country’s economic prospects. It is also important, she noted, because “women are smarter than men.”
It might have been a joke, but since the dawn of time, humanity has been haunted by questions that even our greatest philosophers, scientists, and scholars have struggled to answer. Questions as urgent as they are unanswerable — “Where did we come from?”, “What is the nature of reality?” and “Isn’t it super-weird to eat a slice of pizza with a knife and fork?” — give purpose to our lives and structure to our 5 a.m. dorm room conversations.
But of all those eternally-vexing questions, none seems to have as many contradictory answers as the issue of the intellectual differences between the sexes.
Since there is obviously no possible way that Michelle Obama could have just been joking (just ask the seasoned comedy analysts over at Twitter), we must treat her comment as exactly the opening we’ve been looking for to settle this debate once and for all. Are women really smarter than men?
Yes, gentle readers, right here, right now, we will get to the bottom of an issue that has befuddled both our greatest thinkers and Harry Belafonte. So read on, as we finally and definitively answer the question: Are women smarter than men?
Let’s examine the evidence in a few key areas:
Exhbit A: SPATIAL RELATIONS
A study from the University of Pennsylvania examining differences among the neural wiring between men and women found that men were likely to better perform singularly-focused tasks that involve negotiating space, like “navigating directions” — because men's brains contain the densest neural wiring within a single hemisphere, which seems to "facilitate connectivity between perception and coordinated action."
Exhibit B: IQ Scores
IQ researcher James Flynn recently noted that, over the past few years, women have been outperforming men on IQ tests, theorizing that recent social gains have allowed women to finally realize their potential for higher intellectual results. Flynn also believes that women are now outpacing men in academic situations (like earning their college degree) due to their superior verbal abilities and language skills — traits which also might explain why women are considered more adept at communicating with others.
Exhibit C: MOTOR SKILLS
A recent study on connectivity between different spheres of the brain suggested that men’s tendency to have heavier connections between the front and back of their brains makes men “optimized for motor skills,” and thus better at technical feats like assembling electronics, or playing Gears of War for 19 hours straight.
Exhibit D: MEMORY
Cambridge University scientists who tested the memory capabilities of almost 4500 subjects found that women of all different ages and backgrounds performed better on memory tests than men, "making an average of 5.9 fewer errors on a specific test of memory" than their male counterparts. A 2008 Swedish psychological study suggested that women have a better memory for faces than men as well, thus scientifically confirming that Memento was basically a documentary about an average dude just going about his day.
Exhibit E: THE EXISTENCE OF JOHN MAYER
Exhibit F: THE fact that SUCCESSFUL, SEEMINGLY INTELLIGENT WOMEN KEEP DATING JOHN MAYER
Exhibit G: hedge fund management
Research by non-profit organization Catalyst found that hedge funds led by women tend to be consistently more profitable than those where female leaders are absent. Analysts believe this is because women are less likely to choose risky investments — and in fact, studies show that women overall are more risk-averse when it comes to finances than men.
Despite decades of “men are from Mars, women don’t know how to change a tire!”-type cognitive research, a lot of recent studies, like one published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that as societies become more equal, men and women begin to perform more evenly on almost all cognitive tests.
This study notes that “gender differences in mathematics and science are smaller in countries with higher gender equality…[leading] researchers to conclude that cognitive gender differences are decreasing as a function of increased gender equality.”
So, surprise! A lot of the things we perceive as inborn cognitive differences between genders are probably actually heavily influenced by cultural conditioning. Yes, that's right, all of us are equally prone to moments of genius like accidentally dropping our phones in the toilet.
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