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Sex differences in the right tail of cognitive abilities: A 30 year examination

Authors
Journal
Intelligence
0160-2896
Publisher
Elsevier
Publication Date
Volume
38
Issue
4
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1016/j.intell.2010.04.006
Keywords
  • Sex Differences
  • Cognitive Abilities
  • Stem
  • Sociocultural Factors
  • Historical Examination
Disciplines
  • Engineering
  • Mathematics

Abstract

Abstract One factor in the debate surrounding the underrepresentation of women in science technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) involves male–female mathematical ability differences in the extreme right tail (top 1% in ability). The present study provides male–female ability ratios from over 1.6 million 7th grade students in the right tail (top 5% in ability) across 30 years (1981–2010) using multiple measures of math, verbal, and writing ability and science reasoning from the SAT and ACT. Male–female ratios in mathematical reasoning are substantially lower than 30 years ago, but have been stable over the last 20 years and still favor males. Over the last two decades males showed a stable or slightly increasing advantage in science reasoning. However, more females scored in the extreme right tail of verbal reasoning and writing ability tests. The potential role of sociocultural factors on changes in the male–female ability ratios is discussed and the introduction of science reasoning as a potential new factor in the debate is proposed. The implications of continued sex differences in math and science reasoning is discussed within the context of the many important interlocking factors surrounding the debate on the underrepresentation of women in STEM.

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