Three years ago, Lawrence Summers speculated publicly that biological differences between the sexes were the primary reason for the low numbers of women at the highest levels in science and engineering. The ensuing fury led to his resignation as president of Harvard – and to renewed interest in the science of gender differences. Girls have, on average, consistently scored lower than boys on many test of mathematics, for example the math SATs. But the big question that Summers’ remarks highlighted is whether those differences are cultural or biological.
New research shows that in countries with greater gender equality, the gender gap in mathematics closes. The research doesn’t, however, argue that biological differences play no role in academic performance. In every single country, girls score substantially higher in reading than boys do. The girls also tended to do better in arithmetic than geometry in all countries.