If you reside on Earth, you’ve probably heard of the myriad ways men are superior to women.
Men have historically dominated the fields of science and philosophy and filtered their conclusions about the world through their own biases, resulting in some tragic, absurd, and hilarious misrepresentations of women.
While it’s true that many of the differences between the male and female human bodies and psychologies have been overblown—or outright fabrications—there are some real distinctions.
It’s March, so we’re putting the spotlight on female accomplishments and abilities. In honor of Women’s History Month, here are eight things science has suggested women are better at than men.
The stereotype about women being better at fashion or decoration may be rooted in truth, at least in one important respect: women are typically better at detecting colors, according to the results of a study by Brian Verrelli and Sarah Tishkoff of the University of Maryland appearing in the American Journal of Human Genetics.
The ability is rooted in a gene only found in the X chromosome that allows people to perceive the color red.
Kimberly Ovitt for Arizona Statue University explains: “The scientists speculate that enhanced color perception was important when women were the primary gatherers in the hunter-gatherer phase of human existence. It would have allowed them to better distinguish among fruits, foliage and insects.
“Therefore, nature supported the variation, despite some negative consequences to men. … It is the combination of a normal and variant gene, which occurs in about 40 percent of women, that may provide a broader spectrum of color vision in the red-orange range.”
While we’re fact-checking stereotypes, we may as well come out with it that the whole “Women are irresponsible with money” thing has some major holes in it.
Hannah Seligson writes in 2010 in The Washington Post, “Even if women don’t really need extra help with money, more of them think they do. The authors of women-focused financial books capitalize on and reinforce these insecurities and perpetuate stereotypes about women and money with their ‘girl, get a clue’ tone; their covers and titles that imply we are all out-of-control spenders on shoes and clothes; and their tendency to put financial concepts in the language of dieting and weight.”
As it turns out, though, women are significantly better at money in some areas, like investing.
A 2011 study by Barclays Wealth and Ledbury Research found that women make better investors, largely because they take fewer risks—they’re trading less and earning more.
(This confirmed a 2005 study by Merrill Lynch and a 2009 academic study, both of which indicated that women make more from investing than men.)
The 2011 study concluded, “Women were more likely than men to have a greater desire for self-control.”
It’s a well-worn stereotype that women are better at feelings than men. Many of us have come around to the idea that men actually aren’t very different emotionally from women—they’re just socialized differently. But this socialization can create some marked differences.
Our suspicion has long been that historically oppressed groups have a greater capacity for empathy, not biologically but because of lived experiences.
While we weren’t able to find any studies exploring this exact hypothesis, research has “repeatedly shown that participants who are in high positions of power (or who are temporarily induced to feel powerful) are less able to adopt the visual, cognitive or emotional perspective of other people, compared to participants who are powerless (or are made to feel so).”
It would seem to follow, then, that those from marginalized groups—like women—would have greater capacity for empathy than men, with some adjustments for race, class, and gender expression. At least, in 2014, Griffith University and the University of Queensland released “large-scale research” suggesting that, in romantic relationships, women are more empathetic toward their partners than men.
Female partner’s levels of empathy could be measured as comparable (24%) to the event happening directly to themselves, one article on the summary reads, “whereas men’s emotional lives were not linked to the experiences of their partner.”
“It is not that men are unemotional or uncaring, since they are quite strongly affected by what happens to themselves, but they simply are not very emotional when it comes to the feelings of their partner,” says Dr. Mervin, one of the study’s creators. Oh, okay!
Sniffing Stuff Out
Maybe, women readers, it was the time that one corner of your kitchen very obviously reeked of literal human fecal matter and was slowly driving you bonkers while the man you lived with shrugged and said “I don’t smell anything!”—it was the dirty mop, which wouldn’t happen if he would dump the water after using it, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, BRANDON—but it’s always been clear, to you at least, that women have a superior sense of smell.
A few years ago, science suggested this to be true Women may indeed have a more perceptive sniffer. And here’s the kicker: it’s due to more brain cells.
The study, led by a team from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, found more cells in the area of the brain dedicated to smell, the olfactory bulb.
This finding does not definitively point to a superior sense of smell, but Roberto Lent, the professor in the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at Rio’s Federal University leading the study says that, “Generally speaking, larger brains with larger numbers of neurons correlate with the functional complexity provided by these brains.
Thus, it makes sense to think that more neurons in the female olfactory bulbs would provide women with higher olfactory sensitivity.”
Surviving Cars (Kinda, Maybe?)
It turns out that all that fear and guilt heaped onto women about their every move may have some benefits after all, at least according to Traffic STATS, a detailed risk analysis of road fatality statistics by Carnegie Mellon for the American Automobile Association released in 2007.
That research found that, based on miles driven, male drivers had a 77 percent higher risk of dying in a car accident than female drivers. And a 2010 New York Times article cites a study that found women to be safer drivers than men.
However, in 2011, a study published in The American Journal of Public Health found that, even when both groups were wearing seat belts, women driving cars were much more likely than male drivers to be seriously injured in a crash. Specifically, “investigators found that … belted female drivers suffered more chest and spine injuries than belted male drivers in comparable crashes.”
Car safety devices have been designed largely for men, and women may need safety features that take into account their differences, Nicholas Bakalar writes in The New York Times.
So…never mind! It looks like the fear and guilt was just uselessly adding to women’s misery.
Surviving In General (Definitely)
Despite men’s advantages over women in size, strength, and having the entire world built for them, women outlive men with consistency.
Why might this be? Our impression is that women tend to take better care of themselves than men do: eating more nutritiously, participating less in risky behaviors, following up with doctors regarding their health, and cultivating stronger social connections for emotional support.
And, according to Robert H. Shmerling, MD, faculty editor of Harvard Health Publications, these impressions are correct, but there’s more to the story.
Other reasons Shmerling cites for men’s stunted life expectancy include that, on average, men have more dangerous jobs, die of heart disease more often and at a younger age, are larger than women, and commit suicide more often than women. Who knew? Guess the misery goes both ways. Toxic masculinity, et cetera.
Scoring Higher On IQ Tests
James Flynn, world-renowned expert in IQ testing, released new findings in 2012 that women had finally surpassed men in scoring.
For the past 100 years, women had reportedly fallen behind men in IQ testing by as much as five points, but now women were in the lead.
In the last 100 years the IQ scores of both men and women have risen, but women’s have risen faster, Flynn told The Telegraph. “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 disadvantaged in the past.”
Another theory put forth, aside from that women had always had greater capacity for intelligence but that they were not given the educational training to fulfill their potentials, was that modern demands on women to juggle professional and household responsibilities had caused their minds to evolve at a faster pace than men’s.
Getting To Mars (In Theory)
Maybe you have heard and are excited by scientists’ recent discovery of seven planets the same size as Earth that may be hospitable to life. That is indeed all very exciting—but remember Mars? Don’t forget Mars!
The NASA mission to the Red Planet is set for the 2030s, and while we have said before that we would be 100 percent open to a one-way trip to Mars if all of our family and friends were dead, we’re pretty disturbed by the idea when we think about it in too great of detail.
That’s not the case for Kate Greene, who spent four months “cooped up in a geodesic dome on the side of the very red, very rocky, very Mars-like Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii” as part of a Mars mission simulation. She writes in Slate about her conclusion after the experiment that an all-female crew would be the best to send to Mars, given that the female crew members were consistently burning and eating calories at a rate much lower than that of the male crew members.
Greene explains: “The calorie requirements of an astronaut matter significantly when planning a mission. The more food a person needs to maintain her weight on a long space journey, the more food should launch with her. The more food launched, the heavier the payload. The heavier the payload, the more fuel required to blast it into orbit and beyond. The more fuel required, the heavier the rocket becomes, which it in turn requires more fuel to launch.”
We don’t know whether the mission will end up as an all-female crew or not. Whatever the case, we imagine that life on Mars won’t suffer from any delusions about male superiority.