The argument regarding intellectual differences between men and women has raged for centuries, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down in our modern, post-feminist world. Few today would agree with Charles Darwin, who postulated in 1871 that men were inherently more intelligent than women due to the evolutionary need to hunt, attack enemies, and defend families—all tasks that can improve perception, reason, and imagination.
However, modern scientific research shows that Margaret Mead was not quite right either, when she declared in 1935 that there are no biological differences in intellect at all. Instead, it appears that there are, on average, some slight differences between male and female intellects. It should be noted, though, that these are merely statistical averages, and they have only to do with types of intelligence rather than intelligence levels.
Types of Intelligence
Today, science recognizes that there are innumerable different types of intelligence. Some people are expert chess players, effortlessly planning several moves ahead in everything they do. Some have incredible memories, able to spout facts at a moment’s notice. Some are extremely good at learning math formulas, or foreign languages, or philosophical ideas. Some are tremendous playwrights, and some are brilliant composers. Some can fix virtually anything mechanical, and some can debug even the most complex computer code.
While these and many other skills can be loosely grouped into aptitude categories, the simple truth is that intelligence is not as cut and dried as was once believed. There are numerous different types of intelligence, and individuals have different natural aptitudes regardless of gender.
Types of Thinking
When considering different types of thinking, some general differences between the genders emerge. On average, women tend to be more skilled at verbal tasks and non-linear thinking, while men show an affinity for math-based tasks and step-by-step processing. Women tend to have higher levels of emotional skills, and men tend to be better at spatial reasoning. Men generally have better gross motor skills, and women excel with fine motor skills. Women tend to show more nurturing, and men tend to be more aggressive.
Again, though, these prove to be merely statistical averages. There may be more male physicists and mathematicians, and more female teachers and writers, but no one would argue that Marie Curie and William Shakespeare were at the very top of their respective fields. Overall statistics mean nothing when looking at individuals.
Still, the fact that these gender differences exist at all is likely a product of evolution. Our ancestors lived harsh lives with none of the modern conveniences that we enjoy today. It was simply impossible for one person to perform all of the work that was required to fend off enemies, feed a family, raise children, survive the elements, and all the other tasks of daily existence. It was absolutely essential to divide and conquer, and evolutionarily it made sense for one group of people to handle the tasks outside of the home while the other took charge of the home-based work. So we evolved to match that reality.
Today, of course, single parenting is not only possible, but common. People are waiting longer to marry, and many never marry at all. There is no longer a survival reason for coupling up. Nonetheless, the drive to form pair bonds is primal and is unlikely to ever go away.
Negotiation and compromise are incredibly important for any relationship, and it can be tough when both parts of a couple see a particular area as their domain. It can be equally challenging when both partners despise the same aspect of running a home and family. So it only makes sense to choose a partner with skills and interests that complement your own. If you enjoy cooking every night, while your spouse enjoys home improvement projects, you can divide and conquer just as our ancestors did.
Men’s and women’s expected roles have largely gone the way of the dinosaurs, and stay at home dads or women in traditionally male-dominated fields rarely raise an eyebrow. The goal today is to find a partner who complements you well as an individual, regardless of gender.
Looking for verifiable information on the science of attraction and relationships? We’re a neuroscientist and a biological anthropologist eager to help you put the Anatomy of Love to work in your own life.NEXT