Women move ahead of men in IQ stakes

Last updated 12:58 17/07/2012

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New Zealand women are winning the battle of the brains and achieving higher intelligence quotient (IQ) scores than men for the first time in 100 years, new research reveals.

Women have lagged behind men since IQ testing began a century ago, but in recent years, the gap has narrowed and this year women have overtaken men in a few countries, including New Zealand, the Sunday Times in London reports.

The discovery was made by University of Otago political philosopher emeritus professor James Flynn, who was renowned for uncovering an overall increase in IQ results across both sexes.

The discovery in the 1980s - dubbed the Flynn Effect - showed that IQ scores in Western countries were higher than they would have been 50 or 100 years earlier.

Now he has found that women's IQ scores have risen faster than men's, but he is not sure why.

"The full effect of modernity on women is only just emerging," he said.

One possible explanation is that women have a slightly higher potential intelligence than men and are only now realising it.

Another is that women's lives have become more demanding as they multi-task between raising a family and going to work.

But Wellington poet Laurice Gilbert, a member of high-IQ society Mensa, believes it could be because more women are coming out of their shells and embracing their intelligence.

The 58-year-old former audiologist and mother of four joined Mensa six years ago. She is the only poet among about 400 New Zealand members.

"You don't have to have any social skills or common sense to become a member. You just have to be good at IQ tests."

She said times had changed and women no longer shunned being smart. "I can remember as a schoolkid not wanting people to know how clever I was because I would never get a date, so I think that was quite common in my generation.

"I think it's OK for a woman to be smart and for a long time it probably wasn't."

Ms Gilbert has an IQ of between 140 and 150, depending on the test. Normal intelligence ranges from 85 to 115, and a person with an IQ ranging between 145 and 154 is considered to be genius.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates scored 160 and physicist Albert Einstein had an IQ of 160.

Mensa limits its membership to people who have an IQ that puts them in the top 2 per cent of the population. The test, which costs $45 to sit, includes questions on visual and spatial awareness, numeracy and logic, using patterns and number series.

Prof Flynn compared IQ test results from the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Argentina, Estonia and countries in Western Europe.

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In Australia, male and female IQs were found to be almost identical. In New Zealand, Estonia and Argentina, women scored marginally more than men. "As the world gets more complex and living in it demands more abstract thought, so people are adapting," Prof Flynn said.

" The brains of modern people are growing differently and showing increased cognitive complexity, which we measure as increases in IQ.

"This improvement is more marked for women than for men, because they were more disadvantaged in the past."

The Flynn Effect showed there were massive gains in IQ scores from one generation to the next.

Modern Westerners score about 30 points more than people living 100 years ago. It also showed IQ was not genetic and could be improved.

- The Nelson Mail

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