The battle of the sexes is back. According to a study set for release in The British Journal of Psychology this fall, men’s IQs exceed women’s by an average of five points. The disparity is more pronounced at higher levels, with three men for every woman scoring above 130 and more than five men per woman above 145 IQ.
As you might expect, the study is being derided as sexist and dismissed as an inappropriate line of inquiry. Jessica Valenti, executive editor of the popular feminist blog “Feministing,” wrote: “Excuse me if I don’t take this very seriously…You can’t define intelligence by a test. Especially when factors like sex, class and race discrimination aren’t taken into account.” Another blogger similarly discounted measuring intelligence as “a pointless exercise” and implored that we ought to focus on “our similarities rather than our differences.”
Even one of the study’s authors, Paul Irwing, is uncomfortable with his politically incorrect findings: “For personal reasons I would like to believe that men and women are equal, and broadly that’s true….I have been dragged in a direction that I don’t particularly like, but it would be sensible if the debate was based on what we pretty much know to be the case.”
Women should feel insulted by this debate. Not because of the study’s findings, but because of the reaction to the study, which assumes women are too delicate to hear anything questioning the superiority of their sex. Tony Halpin, education editor for The Times of London, leads his article entitled “Is This A Clever Thing To Say About Women’s IQ?” with the assertion, “Half the population will dismiss this story, but a study claims that the cleverest people are much more likely to be men than women.”
In other words, half the population — presumably the female half — will reject this scientific analysis automatically because it doesn’t coalesce with their worldview. This expectation may be an outcome of the controversy that erupted when Larry Summers, president of Harvard University, hypothesized that innate gender differences may contribute to the disparity between men and women in the upper echelons of science. Indeed, the so-called feminist professors attending the conference where Summers spoke swooned upon hearing his remarks; the National Organization for Women soon demanded Summers’s resignation for this heresy.
Halpin’s mistake is assuming that these feminist stalwarts represent women. They don’t. Most women undoubtedly will keep these findings in perspective. After all, all the study suggests is that men are likely to outnumber women at the tops of certain fields that require the kind of specialized aptitudes measured by IQ tests. It says nothing about the potential or intelligence of any individual woman.
The only people likely to be bothered by the study are those intent on insisting that any difference in men and women’s outcomes must be the result of systemic discrimination. As Jessica Valenti wrote on Feministing, “The study’s authors believe that their research shows why men outnumber women in ‘achieving distinctions of various kinds, such as chess grandmasters, Fields medallists for mathematics, Nobel prize-winners and the like.’ Of course. Here I thought that systemic sexism and discrimination were to blame for the disparity. Turns out, women are just big dummies.”
Women aren’t big dummies, but they may on average have different capabilities and preferences than men. Similar studies have found that men are also more likely to be over-represented at the bottom of the IQ scale. This may explain why women are outperforming men in overall educational attainment. Women are more likely then men to graduate from high school, attend college and earn a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree.
Men, however, still obtain more Ph.D.’s than women. There are a lot of potential reasons for this. Fewer women may be willing to invest the time to earn that extra credential, especially since people generally begin pursuing a Ph.D. in their mid-20s, when many women may want to start a family and spend more time with children. Innate differences could play a role. So could sexism.
It’s preposterous to assume, however, that the only explanation for differences between men and women is discrimination, and to try to shield women from evidence that suggests otherwise. We need an honest dialogue about the various factors that contribute to men and women’s different life outcomes. The inane assumption that women must be offended by such a dialogue is the real sexism.