Are There Sex Differences in Intelligence?

· September 3, 2018

“Women must earn less than men because they’re weaker, smaller, and less intelligent”. A Polish MEP made these statements just a year ago. Unfortunately, we’ve all heard some unfortunate, documented comments that compared men’s intelligence to women’s.

The most widespread belief is that women are better when it comes to language, but men are better with math. But what scientific basis does this comparison have? Is it true that there are sex differences in intelligence? 

Who’s more intelligent?

Some researchers have criticized the fact that people study sex differences because they believe they can promote false stereotypes and prejudices. In this sense, we think that prejudice also exists in the absence of data, so research is sometimes the only way to separate myths from facts. This was what Diane Halpern, an American psychologist, stated when asked about this topic.

Men versus women.

The truth is that most studies conducted research in relation to differences in intelligence. Based on the results of these studies, researchers have observed that there are practically no differences in intelligence between men and women. In some studies, small differences favor men, while others favor women.

Researchers have used different instruments to study the differences in intelligence between both sexes. Some of the best-known ones are the Cattle Factor or the Progressive Matrices Test. But none of them have found a significant and systematic difference in intelligence between men and women. However, these similar test results can be associated with different patterns of brain activity. While women used more areas of the brain in charge of processing speed, men resorted more to their decision-making areas.

Intelligence differences in specific aptitudes

Above all, it’s become clear to us that there are no differences in general intelligence between men and women. But what about specific subjects or fields? Are there differences between men and women in mathematics or in verbal tests?

In this case, we could say that yes, there are significant differences. Researchers have observed that women are better at verbal tests, world knowledge, paragraph understanding, and processing speed. On the contrary, men are better at spatial tests, sciences, arithmetic, and mechanical understanding.

In addition, there’s another important fact: the differences found aren’t maintained over time. If we analyze the trend, we can see that these differences are decreasing. Men and women’s average scores are equal. It’s at this point that it would be logical to ask ourselves if the differences in specific aptitudes are really due to a lack of aptitude or simply to stereotypes. Do women obtain lower math scores because they’ve been discouraged or unmotivated to study these subjects? Does the same thing happen to men?

Differences in intelligence: Flynn effect

The Flynn effect gives a name to this curious phenomenon. The truth is that, if we compare the results of intelligence tests from two decades ago to the results of today’s intelligence tests, we can see that the planet’s IQ has increased. Things that explain this increase are global improvements in food, education, and the tendency to create smaller families.

For example, let’s use math as a reference. Both men and women have improved significantly in math in recent decades. In addition, this increase means that the differences between men and women’s mathematical intelligence has decreased. Therefore, as far as math is concerned, women have improved more in math than men have in recent years.

Men and women have different intelligence.

These changing results point to the idea that these differences may be due to a cultural rather than genetic origin. If this were the case, it’s our responsibility and the educators’ responsibility to stop promoting stereotypes and start motivating men and women equally. This would make it easier for them to decide for themselves what they want to study.

As we’ve already seen, the sex differences in intelligence are very small, if not nonexistent. It’s true that differences continue to show up in specific skills, such as verbal, spatial, or numerical. But it’s no less true that these differences are becoming smaller, which rules out their genetic explanation. If so, we’re playing a very important role in the existence of these differences as a society. We have the power to make them disappear.