So Women Are Out-Scoring Men on IQ Tests: Why, and Does It Matter?

Posted on July 18, 2012


Doug Barry has a humorous aside in Jezebel, pondering why it is that women have recently been out-performing men on IQ tests, whereas in the past, women have scored about five points lower than men, on average.

I think the reason is obvious: social progress in women’s equality, coupled with increased access to education.  Can it be a coincidence that also recently, women have made up the majority of college students, and have been getting better grades?  Women seem more driven to do better, and apply themselves to their studies with greater effort than many male students do.

In the long and contentious history of the various IQ tests, there has been a lot of vitriol about race and IQ, and how much any apparent disparities can be attributed to educational opportunities and childhood environment and how that relates to the content of the tests.  We can still argue about inherent differences, but it has pretty much been proven that yes, people can make themselves “smarter” on IQ tests through education, and yes, people can even make themselves “smarter” in more basic ways through cognitive exercises.  Well, if we are able to shift our measured IQ, and even our real intellectual performance,  through training of any kind, then it stands to reason that access to education does make us “smarter,” and the more we apply ourselves to our studies, the greater that effect will be.  So it’s no surprise, really.  The women’s higher IQ scores are just a reflection of the fact that they have opportunities they did not have in the past, and are taking full advantage.

So does it matter that women are out-scoring men on IQ tests?  In the long run, I don’t think so, although it does point up the shortcomings of the tests themselves and perhaps suggests that there are better ways to use this data:  to better assess the value we are getting from our education, perhaps.