A rather curious new study in the journal Psychological Science suggests that the cognitive function of women is connected to how gender-equal the nation of their residence is. The more equal the sexes are, the more likely a woman past middle age is likely to be slightly sharper than their male counterparts.
A team of researchers, led by the University of Paris-Dauphine, analyzed the most respected cognitive test performance data for men and women aged between 50 and 93 across a total of 27 countries, including throughout Europe and the US.
Plenty of these tests involved memory recall assessment: people were given a list of 10 or so words that they had to recite back from memory immediately post-exposure, and after a short delay. Similar tasks involving animal names were also a key part of plenty of these cognitive examinations.
At the same time, participants were surveyed on how they personally perceived the extent of the gender gap in their country. They were asked how much they agreed with statements that, when it came to the country they lived in, claimed that men have more rights than women, or alternatively suggested that women and men have equal rights.
Both factors varied wildly between nations and individuals. In certain countries, women greatly outperformed men. In Sweden, for example, women outperformed men by a larger margin than in any other country. Conversely, Ghanaian men outperformed women on these cognitive tests by the greatest margin.
After scouring through their results more carefully, the team noticed that a correlation between the cognitive performance of women and the perceived gender gap in their country of residence cropped up. In countries where women were assigned to more traditional, servile, family-focused roles and had less access to education in the way men did, their cognitive performances were worse.
It seems that countries that become more progressive in this regard over time don’t just see an equaling of cognitive abilities in men and women, but an outpacing of men by women, at least by the time they are 50 or older.
In the paper, entitled “As You Sow, So Shall You Reap,” the researchers explain that “cognition in later life thus cannot be fully understood without reference to the opportunity structures that sociocultural environments do (or do not) provide.”
In sum, a smaller gender gap leads to better educational opportunities for women, which leads to a significant, game-changing boost in their inherent cognitive abilities. No wonder extremists and highly insecure, powerful men are so afraid of giving women the same opportunities that they have.
Society, for many reasons – from conflict to climate change – would be better off if more women were empowered. Let’s get to it.