General Knowledge

Richard Lynn has an article out claiming that men have a 0.5 standard deviation edge in general knowledge. That fits with what I’ve seen, for example in terms of basic science knowledge. Or back in my College Bowl salad days: I ran into many teams, and very few of the top scorers were women. By ‘very few” I mean 1.

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62 Responses to General Knowledge

  1. Hey, women have emotional knowledge! Measure that, dude.

  2. Gord Marsden says:

    Emotional knowledge surely must be a negative

  3. Wilbur Hassenfus says:

    Women pack their heads full of important information that nobody cares about. Maybe if we defined “science” a little more inclusively it would include information about actors and actresses, and what a bitch the receptionist is being, and a full list of every grocery item their man ever liked (or didn’t like, even though it was on sale).


  4. DK says:

    0.5 SD sounds about right. That is, something pretty noticeable already from casual observations over long periods. Even the smartest women I know/knew seem to have a narrow range of knowledge/interests when compared to the similarly smart men. It’s like they can’t be bothered with the stuff for which they have no immediate practical use.

    I haven’t checked but I’d bet good money that trivia championships are totally dominated by men.

    • AppSocRes says:

      One of the great disappointments of my life was the limited amount of time I spent in academia. I’d always assumed that faculty social events and lunches at the faculty club would be endless rounds of stimulating and effervescent conversation and insight. Instead, I found that most faculty – men and women – at the various places I taught were ignorant of and indifferent to most of what lay outside their immediate areas of expertise. To boot, they were often lacking in the social graces. I usually got more spirited and informed discussions at the local bars although usually I could eventually find at least a few faculty who were more intellectually adventurous. My conclusion is that, while general intelligence and intellectual curiosity and gaming are not orthogonal to one another they are certainly not highly correlated. A caveat: With one exception, I taught at distinctly second rank institutions. Maybe the faculty at first rank institutions are more stimulating.

      • Anonymous says:

        Lol, the same goes for me, both when working as faculty and at a STEM research department at a global company. Mostly TV shows, if things veered from the work topics which were the mainstay. No surprising hobbies either. Sigh.

  5. Anuseed says:

    Women are focused on the nest. Men look further afield.

  6. thesoftpath says:

    Where is the link?

  7. Anonymous says:

    Look at the gender breakdown when people are polled on basic things like knowing which country the US declared independence from:

    “85% of men compared to only 69% of women know that America’s freedom was won from England.”

    Put those numbers into a Z-score calculator and what do you get?

    • Anonymous says:

      BTW, is there a more rigorous way to estimate an overall general knowledge difference based on a single item? The item response curve isn’t a step function. A bunch of people in the fatter part of the bell curve on the overall trait will miss that particular question and inflate the number of rare responses, so the thresholds are actually more distant than they appear. The question is by how much.

      • mtkennedy21 says:

        My wife announced that she fell in love with me because I was the only other person she had met who knew about the yucca moth. She is pretty good on general knowledge.

    • dearieme says:

      i.e. more men were wrong than women.

    • Anonymous says:

      Put those numbers into a Z-score calculator and what do you get?

      Another day older and deeper in debt.

  8. I covered the general background and the relevant papers here:

    It is an interesting debate, because general knowledge must be general, that is, the topics to be covered MUST be as wide as possible, otherwise it is not general knowledge. What may be happening in formal intelligence testing is that the broader male coverage is dismissed, because the items of male advantage are turned down on the basis that they show too much male bias. This may account for the orthodoxy claiming that men and women have equal intelligence, when the standardization samples in fact show a 2-4 point male advantage, and we do not know exactly how many items were turned down because of presumed male bias.

  9. Josh says:

    Women probably know more about which celebrities have dated which other celebrities. They may be better at categorizing people’s life histories in general. My wife certainly knows more about our friends and neighbors than I do.

    • Yudi says:

      Charles Murray has suggested that, before women entered the workforce en masse, they weren’t “not working”–rather, they were “generating massive amounts of social capital.” When they started working, a lot of it was lost, which has contributed to a loss in community spirit over the past few decades.

      Certainly my mother has a lot of knowledge about people in my hometown that I can barely follow when she divulges it to me, despite the fact that I lived there for 18 years and remember most of the people she’s referring to.

      • johnb3 says:

        Social commentators long remarked upon the ludicrous amount of clubs, committees, and other social orgs formed and operated by American woman back when the phrase “working woman” was a euphemism for a prostitute.

        • josh says:

          I hear people say that so and so wants women to go “back to the kitchen”. How many meals per day do they think people used to eat?

      • Chalers Murray (and he’s not alone in this) needs to correct for class distinctions before saying stuff like “before women entered the workforce”. Lower class women have always been in the workforce whether it was on farms or in factories. Sure, in the 20th century people got the cute idea that “women started working”. That should be “middle class women started working”.

  10. John says:

    As hunter-gatherers our forbears probably divided into females who looked after hearth home and the kids, and males who went off hunting – often some distance away. So the female’s role probably required a more intense local knowledge, whereas the male’s role involving as it did a greater degree of unpredictability, would have benefitted from a good general knowledge of how the wider world worked. So sex-specific natural selection may well account for this finding.

    • dave chamberlin says:

      I think you are on to something. Sex specific natural selection makes sense, it could have happened, and it should have happened. But public acceptance of such a concept simply isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

    • dearieme says:

      Rather temporary hearths and homes, mostly, i suppose.

    • josh says:

      I’m very good at trivia and my wife always comments about how I don’t notice my surroundings.

    • epoch2013 says:

      We’re not hunter-gatherers. We have genetically changed a lot since the introduction of agriculture, due to selection. That is true for milk tolerance but might very well also be true for a lot of other traits. Including mental ones.

      • Anuseed says:

        Oh come on, we’re 99% the same as prehistoric hunter-gatherers. Evolution has only tweaked us a little bit since then.

        • gcochran9 says:

          You don’t know that. Judging from how h-gs do when injected into modernsociety, it’s not true: they do very poorly.

          • Anuseed says:

            Well maybe 95%.

          • Thiago Ribeiro says:

            Yet some of the most successful Brazilans (Rondon, Floriano, etc.) are from Amerindian stock.

            • gcochran9 says:

              I don’t know that much about Brazil. Can you tell me more about those people?

            • Ursiform says:

              You appear to be defining “from Amerindian stock” as having some Amerindian ancestry. That’s pretty common in Brazil which, I don’t believe, has a nearly pure European overclass as Argentina does.

              And what does “some” mean? “Some” of the most successful Americans come groups that don’t do well on average. Does “some” mean that 3% of them are in the top 10% overall?

          • SMack says:

            Back in the 80s I had this eccentric boss who’d been in the Wehrmacht, and spent some as a guest of the stasi before escaping just ahead of the wall.

            He used to describe problem employees as “hunter-gatherer types”, by which he meant high time preference, low effort intensity, responsive to prompts more than schedules, etc.

          • I’d harzard a guess that they do better than the other way around. After all, low intelligence gets you killed in the wilds, whereas in modern urban enviroments we positively select for it

        • Ursiform says:

          1% genetic change can have enormous consequences.

      • John says:

        Yes, we probably have undergone many genetic changes since the introduction of agriculture. But that does not mean that all previous behavioural traits would have been eradicated of course. What’s more, a good case could probably be made for the traditional sexual division of labour in the farming community having actually enhanced genetically based sexual differences in behaviour.

    • I know a great deal more than my wife about national and international politics. However, she knows who is on the school board, planning commission, and zoning board in our town, and I simply ask her who we are voting for each time. As the behavior of those local officials affects me more than whatever the hell Colorado does about its marijuana laws, I’m hard pressed to declare the difference a superiority of mine.

      • dearieme says:

        “I simply ask her who we are voting for each time”: I’ve cut out the middle man (me). I’ve just given her a proxy vote on my behalf.

  11. Smithie says:

    If you parsed the speech of women and men in everyday interactions, my gut says that men would be more informationally dense. Women would speak more, but say relatively little.

    Perhaps, not a unique observation…

    • pyrrhus says:

      Interestingly, young girls talk something like six times as much as boys (I have talked with the mothers of children in my chess classes who confirm this), but almost all of that talk seems to be social signaling.

    • johnb3 says:

      They communicate just as much, but their words are comparatively less important. It also isn’t necessarily sex-specific; that is, men occupying the archetypically female economic niche (economic dependence) tend to communicate more in that way. Perhaps this explains some of the pathology of our time in that extreme and widespread dependence inhibits info-rich, true speech.

      • Smithie says:

        I don’t know if it is related or not, but I think women generally make poorer comedians than men. The only one I’d consider great, Lucille Ball, was primarily a physical comedian.

        Also, I find women generally make poorer entertainers in general, when a lot of unscripted talk is involved. Podcasts. Interviews.

    • dearieme says:

      If that was the analysis you were carrying out you wouldn’t be “parsing”. “Construing” would be part of what you were doing, though. I wonder whether more women than men know what “to parse” means.

      • Smithie says:

        I’m afraid I wasn’t very clear, but I was thinking of a computer analysis. Not subjecting any poor chaps to actually doing the listening. In which case, I think “parse” might be the right term, at least in the sense of slang.

        That is to say, I think a lot of it would be done with word frequencies or ratios. Although I suppose a computer could almost do real grammar now.

  12. pyrrhus says:

    I have found that even very bright women have screens that prevent knowledge of certain things from entering. For example, the third world…they desperately want it to be Wakanda, and can’t process the fact that much of it is more like Hell…Another well known example, of course, is HBD, particularly as it relates to intelligence…As a certain writer quipped, they want evolution that stopped at the neck…

  13. Ruritanian says:

    NAQT – consider them the primary successor to College Bowl – is diligent about collecting player statistics. Assuming that I haven’t missed anyone, the top female player at Nationals was 51st in the standings last year, out of 122 players in Division I.

    This is a significantly worse performance by women than when I was active on the circuit. Looking backwards to 1998, the top woman placed 15th out of 179 in Div I (the next woman down was 29th).

    Part of this may be the pseudo-professionalism that’s taken over the “sport” – a lady on our team was often our lead scorer. But she did it by being extraordinarily well-read, and was eventually consistently outscored by a guy who liked to sit down and memorize lists of things. This is now the dominant strategy.

  14. Greying Wanderer says:

    eggs are expensive, sperm is cheap – so it makes sense for evolution to select for women to be more fail-safe and put most of the risk of mutational mistakes on men.

    • Jacob says:

      I’d opine that male-derived mutational load is higher as a byproduct. We weren’t selected for more mutations, we were selected for more gametes, which means more meiosis, which means more mutations.

  15. female reader says:

    “Richard Lynn has an article out claiming that men have a 0.5 standard deviation edge in general knowledge. That fits with what I’ve seen, for example in terms of basic science knowledge.”

    this is unfair. I think the issue is, what do you define as “general knowledge”? Here in the comments we alredy see the divergence, where someone is citing “celebrities” as woman´s domain of knowledge. I don´t consider celebrities knowledge any better than soccer game results knowledge. But I am sure that Richard Lynn would discard celebrities infavor of soccer.

    Men simply think that knowledge that women possess (for example responsivness to a baby, breastfeeding, etc. ) is not that “worthy” as what men know. Therefore the divergence.

    Because women´s domain of knowledge is being degraded, we have a lot of issues in the modern world.
    For example cooking: why should I cook real meals if I can just buy some convinience food? Cooking is so 1950s! For sure it is better to work at some big company doing proper “career” and then microwave some crap at home for food for my toddler (after he/she spent the last 16 hours at the daycare center). Indirect consequences: obesity, diabetes, cancer epidemics etc.

  16. dearieme says:

    What do you define as “general knowledge”? That is exactly right. What, and indeed why?

  17. pyromancer76 says:

    In my memory, females utilize 10 times more white matter (networking grid) than males, while males utilize 7 times more gray matter (information- and action-processing centers). At the git-go that should indicate a difference in the ultimate intelligence and kinds of intelligence developed.

    I think there are three other primary areas of difference — they process chemicals somewhat differently, e.g., serotonin and testosterone. I think males have somewhat less oxytocin. Females have a larger hippocampus and higher neural connections into the hippocampus — (girls input or absorb more sensorial and emotive information than males.

    Right and left hemisphere are set up with different divisions of labor even before birth. Girls have verbal centers on both sides, males on one side. There are many others – as many as 100 gender differences in the brain.

    All this tells me that evolution prepared males to be highly knowledgeable about events and resources in the world, their greater strength and activity level suggest this, and females are more adept at relational tasks.

    I think this suggests that males should be higher in IQ on a general level, but they shouldn’t let that go to their heads or they will be living alone. Also let each sex develop their intelligences to their utmost; however, males have had many, many more societal advantages to do so. Way too much male dominance to the impoverishment of a culture — Islam a most radical example. Enslaving one sex makes seems to make low-ingenuity folk out of the other. No creative, generative intercourse, only babies and slavery.

  18. charles w abbott says:

    There are some things where women seem to have more information and better developed vocabularies. Based on my own idiosyncratic, un-systematic experience, here’s a partial list.

    plants and flowers (certainly ornamentals–I’m not too sure about trees).
    colors and fabrics. types of clothing. styles of dress.
    spices for cooking, and food ingredients generally. Women can name and disambiguate more items in produce–men can do the same thing in a hardware store or the gun store.
    wine tasting, perhaps. And sense of smell. The best wine tasters may be women in their 30s or 40s–though some men who are egomaniacs may have a bigger critical reputation and “brand.”

    = – = – = – =

    It’s not clear to what extent this is culturally mediated and to what extent something deeper than culture: an inborn proclivity, or something similar, say something that emerges from “time and inclination” or “time-on-task” in a particular environment.

    = – = – = – =

    Perhaps “general knowledge” is often about the big world, and many of things where women know more can be subsumed under the category of “domestic sphere.”

    It would be great to see cross cultural data on this topic. For example, there is the list of “human universals” at the end of Pinker’s The Blank Slate–it’s in an appendix. The actual work is from Donald Brown.

    = – = – = – =

    I do recall reading that women are more sensitive to judging mood from facial expressions–except for anger. Men can tell when other men are looking at them with anger or marked hostile intent.

    = – = – =

    do men read the news more? That would explain a lot–generalized knowledge is obviously “crystallized” rather than “fluid” intelligence.

  19. thrasymachus33308 says:

    Speaking of which, Weird Al did a parody of “Our Love’s in Jeopardy” by Greg Kihn, “I Lost On Jeopardy”.

  20. Doug says:

    I would imagine that the inverse is women having more interpersonal specific knowledge. Questions like “how many siblings does your coworkers have” or “when is your brother-in-law’s birthday” or “name the last four people that your best friend dated”. Probably at least 0.5 SD difference between men and women in this domain.

    Which goes back to interest in “things vs people”, which is the biggest personality divide between genders (at about 1 SD). Many are more likely to be interested in “general facts” because they’re sub specie aeternitatis. Women are more likely to focus on the temporal facts immediate to their social surroundings.

  21. could this be explained by the X chromosome?

  22. Pingback: This Week In Reaction (2018/03/04) - Social Matter

  23. ccscientist says:

    A little late to the party: something I have noticed on for example the airplane, is when you count people reading something serious (Forbes, Wall Street Journal, journal articles, non-fiction, trade magazines like computing mags) it is probably 5 or 10 men to 1 women. Can’t learn it if you aren’t interested.

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