Researchers at Duke studied SAT scores of intellectually promising 7th graders (ages 12 to 13) over the last 30 years. The figure below took the ratio of boys to girls who scored in the top 1%, 0.5%, and 0.01% of the distribution in math scores (girls have a slight edge on the verbal SAT, but the differences are not nearly as large).
Ratio males to females, math SAT scores of 7th graters
Up to the top 1%, boys and girls are nearly equal. But the higher into the tail you get, the bigger the differences emerge—and the boys dominate. In the 1980s, there were 13.5 boys for every girl in the top 0.01%, now there are only 3.8. The decline shows a large share of the gap was social conditioning, whether because of girls being told they could not be great at math or not being encouraged to take hard math classes. But a significant gap remains—some of if representing that we have further to go and some of it raising more uncomfortable questions about differences in innate ability.
Dave Lubinski, a psychology professor at Vanderbilt University, also studies the SAT scores of precocious 7th graders and tracks what happens to them in their careers. The oldest cohort is now 50 years old. He says once you narrow the population down to the 1 percenters in math, boys do score slightly higher. “But conditional on being in the 1% of math, the girls have better verbal skills.
This suggests women may be less likely to be extreme math stars, but they display a more well-rounded intelligence. It’s hard to separate out what’s biological and environmental because intelligence reflects what you study and how intensely you pursue it. People are often drawn to what they are good at and what they have access to. Lubinski and his coauthors observed that women are more drawn to working with people and jobs that prize communication.
Many talented women, for a number of reasons like discrimination or just their personal preferences, don’t end up as research scientists. Perhaps this explains why a quantitative PhD does not buy me the same social allowances men seem to get. Lubinski stressed that men and women report similar levels of career satisfaction—though after speaking with him, part of me feels like I let my gender down by being a writer and not a micro-theorist. Learn more: Quartz