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Our ‘Patriarchal’ Society Drives Science and Math Gender Differences?

By Richard Whitmire — August 29, 2011 1 min read

That’s the conclusion of this study which looks at “spacial abilities,” the ability to mentally rotate objects -- a talent connected to engineering prowess. This article suggests that this is the issue that got former Harvard President Lawrence Summers in so much trouble when he speculated about the thin talent pool of female scientists.

Actually, what got Summers in trouble was repeating the genius/dummy observation that testing experts agree is a fact: Men tend to fall disproportionately into the very top and very bottom of pretty much any test cohort. More geniuses, more dummies.

For a new take on the spacial abilities question, the author travels to India to compare two societies, one male-directed, one female-directed,

One tribe, the Karbi, is patrilineal, meaning that men own most property and inheritance always goes to the oldest son. A second tribe, the Khasi, is matrilineal. The youngest daughter inherits the property in Khasi villages and men are forbidden to own land.

The conclusion: The difference in spacial abilities is driven by socialization, not genetics.

Maybe. I have a hard time making the leap from these primitive societies to the United States.

Plus, I’m not convinced that differences in spacial abilities drive anything. Take a look at where young women stand in their senior year of high school. They are doing great in math and science, as measured by AP tests.

Whatever dissuades many of those women from pursuing STEM majors appears to happen in first year or two of college, long after spatial abilities would play a role.

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