Monday, April 23, 2007

Pew survey reveals relative female cluelessness

Honest left-leaning sources are invaluable in that they are less susceptible to relentless media marginalization or destruction campaigns. The Pew Research Center is one such source. Last week it released the findings of a survey on public knowledge of current affairs.

Fat Knowledge touts the finding that viewers of the Daily Show and the Colbert Report are more up-to-snuff on current events (actually, if "moderate" knowledge of events is considered the midpoint between "high" and "low" knowledge levels--the validity of which is impossible to discern from what Pew has released, since the designations are based on a range of scores--the O'Reilly Factor tops the list of specified shows). That NPR listeners are less informed than either O'Reilly or John Stewart fans may come as a surprise as well (as someone who listens to NPR regularly, however, it doesn't).

The wide knowledge disparity by gender is the most intriguing (and bravest) finding. While 45% of men have "high" knowledge levels, only 25% of women do. Among those rated "low" (correctly answering nine or fewer of the 23 normative questions asked) were 26% of the men and 42% of the women surveyed. The true difference is likely obscured a bit due to the nature of many of the questions that dealt with being able to identify various people by name (rather than what they believe or what they've done)--a 'superficiality' that women seem to be better suited for than men are.

From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense. For all but the last 8,000-10,000 years of human history, homo sapiens were hunter-gatherers. While males ventured off to hunt, defended the clan from external threats, and engaged in acts of aggression against non-clan members, females focused more locally--foraging for nuts and berries, caring for offspring, and preening to maximize sexual attractiveness.

Bluntly, men are, on average, more qualified to make macro-level decisions than women are. It is rooted in both biology and culture. The finding also provides some insight into why nearly one-quarter of the US population is admittedly hesistant to elect a female President.

Other interesting findings in brief:

- Republicans are modestly more knowledgeable than Democrats.

- Whites know more than blacks (unfortunately, these are the only two racial/ethnic categories specified); yet, illustrating the society-within-a-society phenomenon of contemporary black America, the percentage of blacks who know who Condoleeza Rice is greater than the percentage of whites who do (relatedly, blacks, who are concentrated in urban metropolitan areas, tend to get their information from local news sources in greater proportions than other groups do, disadvantageously so in the case of a survey like this).

- Income (and likely IQ) and knowledge unequivocally trend in the same direction.

- Those surveyed represented multiple news sources (however many they "watched, read, or listened to"). This probably inflates the performance of the comedy shows as far as each source's effectiveness in dispensing information is concerned. Just like reading The Onion, the Daily Show is more entertaining to watch if you have a grasp of the reality being humorously poked at. I suspect the stoned-slackers who reported the Daily Show as their sole source of information didn't fare too well.


al fin said...

As for the cluelessness of women, I suspect it has very little to do with the 2 or 3 point IQ difference often found between males and females. Rather it probably relates to evolved attentional and motivational differences in what males and females consider "important." Males think more strategically in most situations, and want to understand how things work--including the political, geographical, and economic worlds.

The females who adopt a more "male" worldview probably were exposed to more male hormone in utero. I can't prove that, but it is consistent with the reading I have done.

Hal K said...

Intelligence not linked to wealth:

Audacious Epigone said...


Interesting. There's a lot of food for thought in that finding. But income and IQ do trend in the same direction. I'd speculate that with a negative savings rate in the US, people spend to live just about up to their means irrespective of income. It's a problem that transcends income brackets.

MensaRefugee said...

That finding uses the same source as "The Bell Curve" which gave the exact opposite finding. Fishy? Definitely!

And Im surprised its a quarter only who wont elect a female president. Then again 50% of the voters are women, so I guess its plausible in its own way.

Giving women the vote was one of the dumbest things ever done. They just dont think systemically - and they abhor the idea of competition.

Of course it was a human rights victory - but the dilemma remains - a society that gives women equal share in the political world will be a weakened society.

Women prefering security over freedom by leaps and bounds will slowly but surely stagnate a country.

Audacious Epigone said...


I share your skepticism regarding the putative finding that IQ doesn't correlate with wealth but it does with income. Wealth correlates more strongly with educational attainment than income does, yet hal's source seems to insinuate otherwise.

No data is given, either. Always like to replicate or at least see the methodology when I can.

Hal K said...

I can believe that women tend to be less well informed about current events (although I wouldn't tell my wife that).

I am skeptical about the claim that there is no link between intelligence and wealth too. Perhaps it depends on how you sort the data.

al fin said...

In the US, plumbers,welders, electricians and public school teachers can be millionaires is they manage their money. It does not require a theoretical physicist's IQ to apply basic money management rules. At the same time, very intelligent people can be particularly bad about mundane things such as money management--regardless of income. Income does not equal wealth, just ask Dave Ramsey.

Wealth is inherited.
Wealthy men live shorter lives than their wives, who then become wealthy.
Men do not marry for intelligence, women sometimes do.
Children of wealthy families often regress to the IQ mean, yet still inherit wealth.