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Every once in a while I find a news bit that makes me feel that there may be some justice after all. This is particularly true in regard to the biological destiny (imperative?) that differentiates males and females. This piece, originally from the New York Times magazine, addresses how the perceived differences in prime breeding life span between men and women may be inaccurate. So to Lisa Belkins who wrote this article, thank you for pointing out that the playing field just may be more level than we had supposed.

Read between the lines of a recent study out of Australia and you can see hints of a coming shift in the gender conversation. Researchers at the University of Queensland found that children born to older fathers have, on average, lower scores on tests of intelligence than those born to younger dads. Data they analyzed from more than 33,000 American children showed that the older the man when a child is conceived, the lower a child’s score is likely to be on tests of concentration, memory, reasoning and reading skills, at least through age 7.

It was a small difference — just a few I.Q. points separated a child born to a 20-year-old and a child born to a 50-year-old. But it adds weight to a new consensus-in-the-making: there is no fountain of youth for sperm, no “get out of aging free” card. The little swimmers, scientists are finding, one study at a time, get older and less dependable along with every other cell in the male body.

And men don’t have to be all that old to be “too old.” French researchers reported last year that the chance of a couple’s conceiving begins to fall when the man is older than 35 and falls sharply if he is older than 40. British and Swedish researchers, in turn, have calculated that the risk of schizophrenia begins to rise for those whose fathers were over 30 when their babies were born. And another Swedish study has found that the risk of bipolar disorder in children begins to increase when fathers are older than 29 and is highest if they are older than 55. British and American researchers found that babies born to men over the age of 40 have significantly greater risk of autism than do those born to men under 30. (The age of the mother in most of these studies, showed little or no correlation.)

Lay this latest I.Q. news atop the pile, and you find yourself reaching the same conclusion as Dr. Dolores Malaspina, a professor of psychiatry at New York University Medical Center, who has done some of the schizophrenia research: “It turns out the optimal age for being a mother is the same as the optimal age for being a father.”

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To offer another perspective on the ongoing gender teeter totter, here’s another interesting perspective from Jessica Shepherd at the Guardian:

Boys do worse in English when there are girls in their class, researchers will say today, contradicting the widely held belief that girls are always a good influence on boys in school.

Boys do best with “as few girls as possible” in English lessons at primary and secondary school, Steven Proud, a research student at Bristol University, will tell the Royal Economic Society’s conference.

But when it comes to maths and science, both boys and girls at primary school achieve up to a tenth of a grade more when there is a high proportion of girls in the class, Proud found.

Proud tracked boys’ and girls’ test results at the ages of seven, 11, 14 and 16 in 16,000 schools in England between 2002 and 2004 for his PhD.

He analysed the test scores to see whether the proportion of girls in a year group made a difference to the results of both genders in maths, science and English.

There are marginally more boys than girls in schools, but most classes in mixed schools are almost equally split between the genders. Proud looked at these and schools that were exceptional in their high or low proportion of girls.

Boys consistently perform up to a tenth of a grade worse when they study English with high numbers of girls as opposed to few or no girls, Proud found.

The more girls there are in an English class, the worse boys perform. This is particularly the case in primary schools, he discovered.

Proud will argue that his results show boys should be taught English in single-sex classes.

Girls, who outperform boys in English at every stage at school, are unaffected by the number of boys in their English classes.

Girls also do better when there are some boys who receive free school meals in their class, Proud found.

He said: “The results imply that boys would benefit at all ages from being taught English with as small a proportion of girls as possible. In maths and science, the results tend to imply that both boys and girls benefit from having more girls in the classroom. A mix of the genders in both science and maths is optimal.”

Proud said boys may do worse in English when there is a high proportion of girls in their class because they realise that the girls are better than them. It could also be that teachers use teaching styles more appropriate to girls when there are more girls than boys in the class. Both genders perform better in maths and science at primary school when there are more girls in the class because boys tend to disrupt the class more, he said.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, said girls started school with slightly better verbal skills, while boys started with a slightly greater aptitude for maths.

“Boys might be discouraged by how well girls are doing in English,” he said, “but that still does not explain why they would do better in maths and science with a higher proportion of girls in their class.

“This is one study, among many, which detects very small differences between boys and girls. But you can’t say that it means boys or girls should be separated. It has very little practical importance for schools.”

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