Girls Make Better Scientists Than Boys

A recent study conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that girls are more likely to score higher on scientific aptitude tests than boys…just not in America. The New York Times reported that girls generally outperform boys in many parts of the world such as Russia, Asia and the Middle East. Yet western societies are more likely to produce male scientists as cultural norms dictate that boys are more likely to see science as “something that affects their lives” in those parts of the world than girls are.

I spend lots of time on academic campuses hanging out with real world scientists and I have not noticed this trend. Have you? What are your thoughts?

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4 Responses to “Girls Make Better Scientists Than Boys”

  1. Dr. Lisa Hoffman says:

    That’s what I’ve been telling people for 35 years.

  2. Mo says:

    Ironic that we are talking about science and scientific conclusions without any details to the methods of the survery, the quesitons asked, the support for the conclusions and the ACTUAL NUMBERS..enough said in terms of how much weight this should have

  3. Lark MacGregor says:

    That you need to hang out someplace other than where the cultural norm is the prevailing paradigm?

    As a female scientist, and the mother of a scientist in the making (who also happens to be female), I can say that the big drop off happens in the late middle school/early high school years, when the pressure to conform to gender stereotypes is incredibly high. From both my experience and my daughter’s, I’d have to say that supportive parents and friends, and a strong sense of self-worth, help girls survive this time with their ambitions intact. But I only have to look at my own profession to know that it isn’t enough to take down the barriers.

    I am one of 3 female members of my large department. Over half of life science Ph.D.s are now awarded to women, but they cannot seem to get past the post-doc stage. To use a tired sports metaphor, the goalposts for promotion and tenure keep moving, making it ever more difficult for *anyone* to succeed in this profession. When you throw in hiring biases and the dysfunctional peer-review and funding process, those goalposts seem to recede off into infinity.

    To my mind, there aren’t many people of either sex who possess the sort of personality, sense of vocation, critical thinking skills and sheer curiosity being a scientist requires, and there are fewer of us still who are willing to brave the political minefields one needs to to make any lasting contribution to the store of human knowledge. Anyone who has that rare combination should be given every opportunity to make that contribution. And one day, if the human species really does grow up, we will understand that, and not deny half of humanity those opportunities.

  4. Matthew F. says:

    I think studies like this are of limited usefulness. Certainly cultural norm can have a big effect, but so does individual personality. My wife is a chemist. I am a microbiologist. We have three daughters. The oldest is fairly indifferent to science. She does what is required to get a good grade. Our middle daughter loves science. She finds it intriguing, she is always asking questions about why things work the way they do. The youngest is too young to tell yet.
    Professionally, every lab I have ever worked at has had women in high numbers in both bench analyst and managerial roles. Some departments and labs lean even higher. When I started at my current job, I was one of four men in the entire laboratory out of a staff (including admin) of about 28. Two of the others were in maintenance and the other was a veterinarian.
    I have noticed differences between men and women in work environment. Women have a harder time working together than men do, but if the group is more balanced, productivity increases. Women are much better than men at some tasks such as Quality Assurance. Men seem to adapt better to being bounced around to different areas of the lab and are less likely to think of a specific work area as “theirs”. I know these are generalities, but I thik my observations are in agreement with the findings of several “workplace self-help” books that I have perused. I’ve known several great women scientists and the workplace is better for their prescence, but it is a mistake to think that men and women will react and behave the same way to situations.

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