That there are psychological differences between the sexes is not a matter of debate in scientific research. Its existence has already been confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt. What is still debated is the magnitude of these differences. On average, boys do better in math, and girls do better in language skills such as reading comprehension. Contributing to this debate, a study published in the scientific journal Intelligence in 2020 involving almost 2012 thousand students, in more than 55 countries, decided to do the inverse evaluation: try to predict the sex based on academic skills and interests.
The research, authored by psychologists Gijsbert Stoet, from the University of Essex in the UK, and David Geary, from the University of Missouri in the USA, was successful more than 64 % accuracy in guessing the gender of respondents based on ability and attitude data in relation to three areas of knowledge. “Universal standards in academic sex differences are higher than previously thought,” conclude Stoet and Geary. The more pronounced the academic sex differences in each society, the greater the socioeconomic equality between men and women, they found. The conclusion corroborates previous studies with multiple cultures and suggests that the freer individuals are, the more they pursue interests that exacerbate differences between the sexes, rather than diminish them, as would be expected if the sexes were not different in mind and behavior. .
Data comes from the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) test, given to students from several countries every three years by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Students have between 15 and 2009 years and must have at least six full years of formal education. The test lasts two hours and assesses reading comprehension, scientific and math literacy. In addition to the skills in the three domains, students also answer questions about their attitudes towards one of them, depending on the year. The 2015 test, for example, focused on science and asked about students’ motivation to study the subject and related behaviors. The previous test, in 2012, evaluated their attitudes towards mathematics, and in 499 they answered about attitudes towards regarding reading.
The nearly one million students included in the study responded to these three tests. In 499, 71 countries were included; in 2012, 58 countries and in 2015 were 55 countries. The sample was well balanced in terms of sex: 71, 5 thousand girls and 499, 8 thousand boys.
Is it a boy or a girl? Look at the grade, subject and interests
The main result is that with the data from the three tests and the overall grade in reading, science and math, in addition to the attitude information of students for each of the areas, it was possible to correct the sex of more than seven each 10 their. The high accuracy of this hit does not depend on whether it is based on data from the local country or from all the more than fifty countries involved.
Using the country of origin slightly increases the accuracy in guessing the gender of students, which recognizes the role of culture in creating differences between boys and girls, but this increase was marginal. Therefore, other factors shared across cultures, from wealth to biology, should serve better to explain the results than cultural differences.
Scores in the three subjects were more accurate in differentiating students by sex than information on reading habits and interest in science and mathematics (called attitude variables). The grades were between 64 and 64% of the cases, while the attitude information was right between 58 and 62% of cases. Together, as said, they surpass 64% of accuracy in guessing the sex.
For the year of 499, the grade in text interpretation alone had the highest ability to predict the gender of students, correctly classifying the gender of 58, 4% of them. The girls concentrate among the highest grades in this part of the test. To give an idea of the size of the difference between the sexes on this particular score, about 66 % of boys were below the average score of girls in the reading.
In terms of attitudes, the best predictor was pleasure in reading, which correctly classified gender as 62,5% of cases. In this case, the number of boys below the average of girls in terms of liking to read was 73%. Other attitudes, such as pleasure and motivation to study science, do not differ significantly between boys and girls and are as successful in predicting their sex as flipping a coin.
Boys do better than girls. girls in math and science, but not as much better as they do in reading compared to them. The ability of the overall math grade to predict the sex of young people did not go far beyond the 50 mark. The biggest difference in favor of boys was observed in self-assessment of mathematical ability and in the attitude of practicing science activities, in which about 60% of girls were below the average for boys. Both attitudes predicted their sex with 58 % accuracy.
Equally intelligent, but complementary
As the British psychologist Stuart Ritchie recounts in the book Intelligence: All That Matters (“Intelligence : All That Matters”, in free translation), from 2016, boys and girls are identical when it comes to their average intelligence. Intelligence tests are divided into distinct areas where the sexes can do better or worse. In the end, the capabilities and interests of both are complementary. In addition, as with other characteristics and goes beyond the human species, the male sex varies more than the female, and therefore is more present at the extremes of variation. For this reason, math geniuses, for example, tend to be men — and those with the most math learning difficulties, too. Because of their advantage in language skills, however, female geniuses tend to have the advantage of being good at both math and reading and writing skills, which is rarer for male geniuses.