A Times guest contributer turns to Google Search data for insight into American parenting:
Google, Tell Me. Is My Son a Genius?
MORE than a decade into the 21st century, we would like to think that American parents have similar standards and similar dreams for their sons and daughters. But my study of anonymous, aggregate data from Google searches suggests that contemporary American parents are far more likely to want their boys smart and their girls skinny.
Maybe. On to the data!
Start with intelligence. It’s hardly surprising that parents of young children are often excited at the thought that their child may be gifted. In fact, of all Google searches starting “Is my 2-year-old,” the most common next word is “gifted.” But this question is not asked equally about young boys and young girls. Parents are two and a half times more likely to ask “Is my son gifted?” than “Is my daughter gifted?” Parents show a similar bias when using other phrases related to intelligence that they may shy away from saying aloud, like, “Is my son a genius?”
First, a methodological quibble. WITH the hyphens, I can confirm his assertion about "two-year-old" and "gifted". Eliminate the hyphens, however, and the top suggestions are "autistic", "smart", "advanced", and "color-blind".
And as to what people are thinking as they type these questions, I don't know; the top suggested completion for "Does the sun rise" is "in the west", which I hope is not what most people believe.
As to children and intelligence, do keep in mind that boys show a higher variance in measured intelligence:
In fact, males and females appear equally intelligent, on average. But on standardized intelligence tests, more males than females get off-the-chart test scores—in both directions. The greater variance of males on intelligence tests is one of the best-established findings in psychometric literature. More males are mentally deficient, and more are freakishly brilliant. The difference in variation isn't huge, but it is large enough and consistent enough that a fair selection process should produce more boys than girls in a gifted and talented program.
So, a daughter who can sit still, pay attention in class and get good grades is less of a novelty than a similarly-capable boy. Consequently, perhaps such a daughter provokes fewer Google searches. However, the author manages a "Fox Butterfield, is that you" moment:
Are parents picking up on legitimate differences between young girls and boys? Perhaps young boys are more likely than young girls to use big words or otherwise show objective signs of giftedness? Nope. If anything, it’s the opposite. At young ages, when parents most often search about possible giftedness, girls have consistently been shown to have larger vocabularies and use more complex sentences. In American schools, girls are 11 percent more likely than boys to be in gifted programs. Despite all this, parents looking around the dinner table appear to see more gifted boys than girls.
And what about the other end of the scale?
Parents were more likely to ask about sons rather than daughters on every matter that I tested related to intelligence, including its absence. There are more searches for “is my son behind” or “stupid” than comparable searches for daughters. Searches with negative words like “stupid” and “behind,” however, are less skewed toward sons than searches with positive words.
The author switches to appearance. I have no doubt that society, and hence parents, put greater emphasis on a woman's appearance, but I will quibble anyway.
What concerns do parents disproportionately have for their daughters? Primarily, anything related to appearance. Consider questions about a child’s weight. Parents Google “Is my daughter overweight?” roughly twice as frequently as they Google “Is my son overweight?” Just as with giftedness, this gender bias is not grounded in reality. About 30 percent of girls are overweight, while 33 percent of boys are. Even though scales measure more overweight boys than girls, parents see — or worry about — overweight girls much more often than overweight boys.
Hmm. I recall overhearing one high school lad telling another "I'm not overweight, I'm a lineman!". I have my doubts about high school football, but I also have my doubts about BMI measurements for athletes, especially male athletes. In any case, whatever the actual ratio of truly overweight boys to girls, I think the author's qualification is important (my emphasis):
...[P]arents see — or worry about — overweight girls much more often than overweight boys.