By improving the educational opportunities and living conditions of men and women, there are more similarities in their intellectual abilities. Researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria and the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden published their findings, which may help future testing and teaching approaches, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

The team analyzed data from more than 31,000 participants involved in the Survey of Health, Aging, and Retirement in Europe. Men and women 50 years of age or older from 13 different European countries answered questions that tested their memory, mathematical ability, and verbal fluency in order to measure their cognitive skills.

"[Findings] suggest that if women and men had equal levels of education, then we should expect a female advantage in episodic memory, a male advantage in numeracy, and no gender differences in category fluency, such as naming as many different animals as possible within one minute,” the study’s lead author Daniela Weber, a researcher from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, told Medical News Today.

Researchers found an individual’s cognitive ability was linked to their age, country of origin, living conditions, and the educational opportunities they were exposed to in adulthood. They believe there is a stereotype threat that holds women back in math and men back in English because those aren’t their assigned gender studies roles.

"Although our study does not directly investigate the reason or explanation for the cognitive gender differences, but rather the societal factors which have an impact on the magnitude of the differences, we expect to find that there always will be gender differences in cognitive abilities,” Weber and co-author Agneta Herlitz said. “Most research would suggest that both biological and societal factors are of importance for the pattern and magnitude of cognitive gender differences."

By just telling someone they won’t do as well on a test as the person next to them, it will affect their performance. If a woman is told she isn’t expected to do as well as the men because it’s math heavy, they won’t perform as well and be discouraged from pursuing math and science fields in college.

"We interpret it as they are hypothesizing that the differences they find in their meta-analysis are a result of stereotype threat, not that they are actually testing the hypothesis," Weber and Herlitz said, referring to Hyde's suggestion that cognitive disparities between men and women may have a psychological basis.  

Source: Herlitz A and Weber D. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. 2014.