You know all those studies showing that men are better than woman at spatial tasks like rotation of objects and thinking out how objects could fit together? Well, a recent study shows no difference in this respect between boys and girls in poor families. It seems the kids in these families had equally poor access to toys and activities that encourage spatial skills, whereas in middle and upper class families, boys have a far higher access to such toys and activities, and they’re more encouraged to excel in them than girls are.

While we’re at it, did you know that boys on average have their own computer by age 15, whereas young women on average have to wait until they’re in their twenties?
We can start talking about biological differences when the social differences are a little less extreme.

4 thoughts on “gender differences

  1. Terry Freedman

    This seems very interesting, and I am looking forward to reading the original research. I have to say that I don’t imagine the situation is helped by the way some schools and organisations try to make up for the gender imbalance (however cused). For example, one organisation gets girls between the ages of 10 and 14 to use an online tool to colour in hands and nails, because this is a good way of getting girls interested in things like databases. When I was teaching, which was not that long ago, I set the kids challenging tasks which were completely unbiased as far as I know, and the only difference I noticed between girls and boys, if any, was that girls usually became focused sooner and stayed that way for longer. However, on the whole, the only social engineering I did in my lessons was to make sure that the boys didn’t hog all the equipment and shout the girls down.

    So, in summary (sorry about this long rant!), I absolutely agree with you about the social differences, and think that the only biological differences (but meybe they are social differences too) is that girls are much deeper thinkers than boys, or at least they start thinking deeply sooner, given the right task in a supportive environment, and without resorting to patronising gimmicks!

  2. Jess

    We can start talking about biological differences when the social differences are a little less extreme.

    What a beautiful, concise way of expressing something that I got quite worked up trying to talk to the fam about at Thanksgiving (a horrible holiday that you’re well quit of in Norway). My mother and sister were defending Larry Summers’ remarks on women’s innate science abilities (“he didn’t say they WERE genetically unable to do math, he just said we should CONSIDER it”) in the face of my overwrought insistence on the importance of socialization. I wish I’d been level-headed enough to express the thought so simply.

  3. hanna

    For example, one organisation gets girls between the ages of 10 and 14 to use an online tool to colour in hands and nails, because this is a good way of getting girls interested in things like databases.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s bothered by this. I went to a talk by the that same organisation recently and was quite disappointed. Not only are the tasks very much based on stereotypes of young girls (nails, fashion, etc.) but I’m not convinced the girls are learning anything susbtantial about computing in the process. I asked the speaker whether the girls were told about databases when they were colouring in nails, and was told that many instructors did not have the relevant knowledge and experience to explain the underlying computing concepts.

  4. Jill

    I reacted to that too – hands and nails indeed. If they’re not even explicit about the database aspect of it all, that’s just so counter-productive… Thanks for all your comments!

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