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Today, in Iceland and Sweden, girls consistently outperform boys in math and physics (see box). In Sweden the gap is widest in the remote regions in the north. That may be because women want to move to the big cities farther south, where they would need to compete in high-tech economies, while men are focused on local hunting, fishing and forestry opportunities, says Niels Egelund, a professor of educational psychology at the Danish University of Education. The phenomenon even has a name, the Jokkmokk effect, a reference to an isolated town in Swedish Lapland.
Back in the States, the achievement gap in the sciences is closing, albeit slowly. Female professors have been catching up with male professors in their publishing output. Today half of chemistry and almost 60% of biology bachelor of science degrees go to females. Patience is required.
Next, Summers may want to take up the male question. In all seriousness. Why do so many more boys than girls have learning disorders, autism, attention-deficit problems and schizophrenia? Why are young men now less likely to go to college than women are? And what to make of a 2003 survey that found eighth-grade girls outperforming boys in algebra in 22 countries, with boys outscoring girls in only three nations? If we're not careful, the next Einstein could find herself working as a high-powered lawyer who does wonders with estate-tax calculations instead of discovering what the universe is made of. --With reporting by Nadia Mustafa and Deirdre van Dyk/ New York and Ulla Plon/Lulea