In school, children often argue about who is smarter or better -- boys or girls. Plenty of schoolyard rhymes spell out one sex's superiority over the other. There's even a book for girls that advises, "Boys are stupid. Throw rocks at them."
The argument about which sex is better doesn't stop at the playground. Teachers, doctors, psychologists and others continue to research the similarities and differences between how men and women learn, communicate and behave. Often, studies document ways in which the sexes do things differently rather than ways in which one is better than the other. Two common points of contention are how people communicate and how people learn.
Are men really falling behind women in school?
If you believe the headlines, boys are having trouble in school. Some researchers say that classrooms are set up to reward girls, who tend to be quieter and more able to sit still for longer periods. Others blame the rise in conditions like attention deficit disorder (ADD), which are more prevalent among boys. Experts have even suggested separate schools for boys. However, according to a 2006 Washington Post article, boys as a whole aren't falling.
Researchers have also taken a look at how many young men go to -- and finish -- college. Currently, only 44 percent of college graduates are men, and that number could drop to 42 percent by the end of the decade [Source: Clayton]. In other words, women outnumber men at many schools, and there are more women than men with four-year degrees. This trend in admissions has cause some colleges to try to recruit more men to keep a balance between the genders in their classrooms.
However, research shows that this trend isn't related to fewer men deciding to go to college. About 60 percent of men apply to and enter a two- or four-year college directly after high school. This number has been increasing steadily since 1980. In the same time period, the number of men who receive a bachelor's degree has held steady at approximately 25 percent [Source: Stepp].
Women, on the other hand, have been attending college in increasing numbers. In 1980, about half of women went to college. Now, about 70 percent of women do, and about 29 percent of women have a bachelor's degree [Source: Stepp]. In other words, men have not become less likely to go to college; women have become more likely to do so.
Do men and women communicate differently?
According to self-help books and some relationship counselors, men and women communicate so differently that they might as well be from different planets. This theory states that women have vastly bigger vocabularies than men do, and they use it more fluently. Men, on the other hand, don't like to talk about feelings, and they especially don't like to give the kind of comfort women like to receive in a crisis. Rather than offering support for another person's feelings, men are allegedly dismissive and prefer to gloss over problems.
There's a lot of contradictory information about whether any of this is true. Some articles claim that women are more fluent than men. One common statistic is that women use 7,000 words per day while men use only 2,000. However, these articles often don't cite sources for their numbers [Source: Boston Globe]. Other research suggests that women use language to build relationships, while men use activity to do the same thing. This could explain the perception that women are generally more talkative than men. Finally, one study shows that men don't necessarily respond dismissively to others' problems, but they are likely to be judged more harshly if they do.
Research suggests that there are some differences in how men and women process and use language. However, some reports go on to say that the scores being analyzed showed more common ground than divergence. So, while there can be some disparity in how men and women express themselves, it may be too minor to make much of a difference.
Some male stereotypes relate to or stem from men's brains and bodies, or even their DNA. We'll look at male neurology and physiology next.