Are Men Actually Better at Math Than Women?

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In one of my recent blogs, I mentioned Robert Sapolsky. He is a behavioural biologist who has taught me a ton of new information through his Stanford Lectures. I like him because he understands the importance of interdisciplinary studies, and doesn’t fit the stereotype of scientists. His long hair and big scruffy beard make him look like a hippy, but he’s a genius scientist.


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My blog that described him was about one of his many mind-boggling propositions: That there are people born as genetic boys who look like girls, and have vaginas but no ovaries. They also have internal undescended testicles that produce insufficient amounts of testosterone to have physiological effects. Some of these people even grow penises during puberty due to increased testosterone! If you want to learn more about this, the link is below.


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There is much more earth-shattering information in Sapolsky’s lectures. One piece pokes holes in evolution and genetics being the main cause of different mathematical abilities in men and women. I have heard this theory from evolutionary psychologists, biologists, and geneticists. I’m not a scientist, and I mostly agree with people who criticize those who pretend that biology plays no role in behaviour. Clearly, biology has a massive impact on the way we act. Gender differences are not ONLY due to socialization. That’s completely ridiculous.


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Sapolsky made a convincing argument in one of his lectures. He talked about the primarily sociological causes of different mathematical abilities between men and women. I have not researched this issue much, but I’m pretty sure that genes and evolution do play a role. However, Sapolsky deconstructed studies showing that boys in school are waaaay better at math than girls, and that this is due to biological differences.


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These massive variations in ability are probably mostly caused by different societal upbringings, rather than gender. In Iceland, where there are many socialist policies for equal opportunities, girls are generally slightly better at math than boys. I usually object in principle to ideas like affirmative action for many reasons, which is a separate topic. But this almost has to be due to different cultures, doesn’t it?


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This appears to be correct particularly because the original study from the 80s showed that the ratio between boys’ and girls’ math skills was 13:1. That sounds like such an enormous difference that it’s virtually impossible for it to be caused by socialization, right? I believed this until recently, but it turns out that I was likely wrong.


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As of 2007, the ratio was more like 3:1. I haven’t done enough research to know how much it has changed since then. But Sapolsky’s point is this: The ratio changing so much over only about 20 years makes genetic differences causing it basically impossible. Everyone who has learned even a little bit about evolution probably knows that it is an incredibly slow process. Minor changes tend to take hundreds of thousands or sometimes millions of years. So it’s almost completely unfeasible that evolution could alter genetic gender differences so much over such a short time frame. If that ratio going from 13:1 to 3:1 were due to evolution, it would have taken exponentially longer than 20 years.


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In the nature vs. nurture debate, I tend to think that gender differences are caused much more by the former than the latter. But this finding is why it’s important to always be open to changing our views. I used to believe that people claiming that socialization is the main reason behind gender differences in ability are full of shit. Authoritarian progressives who scream about oppression and demand that everyone agree with them alienate people. But it turns out that there is at least a grain of truth to some of their claims.


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I think that I was wrong about mathematical abilities between genders. In my opinion, this is another incentive to expose ourselves to diverse worldviews. I hate extremism in any form. But sometimes I agree with right wing extremists claims, and sometimes I agree with those on the left. This post is about science, but gender differences is an almost inevitably politically polarizing issue. For me, it’s important to have all of my views subject to change when presented with better evidence or arguments. Maybe if more of us did this instead of insulting people we disagree with, we could more easily solve problems, and the world would be a better place. I think that it’s crucial for people to disagree with me about this. But all I can do is hope that others will see the flaws of authoritarianism. If we all calm down and talk to each other like adults, maybe we can avoid destroying the world out of contempt and hatred.


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