The idea that female-identified people should be equal to their counterparts is a lasting and ongoing struggle in many parts of the world. In areas that show greater equality between genders, however, there is new science indicating how ladies are reaping all kinds of benefits—including higher cognitive functioning. Not only is offering equal opportunities and treatment the right thing to do, but it can improve the lives and abilities of the people who were once limited by their own society.
A new study from the journal Psychological Science was created on a hunch from researchers at several international universities. They noticed women in northern Europe had significantly higher scores on cognitive tests than their southern neighbors and started to wonder why. They dug deeper, collecting survey information from women aged 50 to 93—from a total of 27 different countries—which highlighted their brain power by testing their memory recall. What they found supported their hypothesis that women’s cognitive abilities would be better in countries who supported a number of gender equalizing factors, such as education and job opportunities. Nations with more conservative gender roles yielded participants with poorer cognitive functioning performance.
The highest scores came from Swedish women, where they outperformed the men. Scores from women in Ghana yielded the lowest scores and a significant male advantage, supporting their hypothesis that traditional gender roles affect women’s cognitive abilities later in life. There was some light at the end of the tunnel for women living in areas with less equality: these scores began to level out over time as more equalizing factors were introduced.
“These findings reinforce the need for policies aimed at reducing gender inequalities as we show that consequences go beyond the labor market and income inequalities,” lead author Eric Bonsang told Science Daily. “It also shows how important it is to consider seemingly intangible influences, such as cultural attitudes and values, when trying to understand cognitive aging.”
There is no doubt that trying to quantify the effects of abstract attitudes and gender roles is a difficult charge. However, additional analyses mentioned in the study bolster the initial findings that societal gender inequality does in fact play a significant role in psychological abilities of women as they age. These findings give credence to the fight for equal rights everywhere—including right here in the U.S. The stronger the opportunities for women and young girls, the better chance they have to be on an equal playing field financially, emotionally and psychologically.
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