Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Men are from Earth and so are women.

A new book by Cordelia Fine called Delusions of Gender takes on many of the same targets that Deborah Cameron's brilliant Myth of Mars and Venus demolished a couple of years ago.

For a while now, the argument that men and women are hard-wired from (or before) birth to be different has been gaining popular support, but many studies suggest that the differences between the sexes are not as pronounced as many might like to believe. And certainly, in terms of verbal abilities, gender seems to account for only a small proportion of difference. Here's a review of Fine's book in last week's Guardian and here's a nice bit about language and gender:

The latter example, on the issue of verbal skills, is particularly revealing, neuroscientists argue. Girls do begin to speak earlier than boys, by about a month on average, a fact that is seized upon by supporters of the Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus school of intellectual differences.

However, this gap is really a tiny difference compared to the vast range of linguistic abilities that differentiate people, Robert Plomin, a professor at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, pointed out. His studies have found that a mere 3% of the variation in young children's verbal development is due to their gender.

"If you map the distribution of scores for verbal skills of boys and of girls you get two graphs that overlap so much you would need a very fine pencil indeed to show the difference between them. Yet people ignore this huge similarity between boys and girls and instead exaggerate wildly the tiny difference between them. It drives me wild," Plomin told the Observer.

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