Trains = brains, and dresses = stresses? New research doesn’t bode well for next generation either.

Are boys born loving trains and guns while girls reach for dolls and pretty pink dresses? Are boys born with different brains, enabling them in the areas of math and science, while girls naturally excel in literature and the written word?

You may remember, in 2005, when the president of Harvard at the time, Lawrence Summers, created such an uproar with disparaging comments about women’s aptitude for science and math. Well, it may be true there are dramatically more men than women in top levels of the science fields, but are the gender differences hard-wired?

This debate has raged on for years, the age-old nature versus nurture, science-brain versus art/literature-brain. Researchers have produced a wealth of results from various studies, often conflicting, and the matter remains far from resolved.

Studies have shown that American girls around between 9 and 17 consistently had fewer experiences in the science realm than boys, and generally expressed negative perceptions and attitudes toward science and math classes. Lawrence H. Summers, then president of Harvard, made his notorious comments about women’s aptitude — researchers have been searching for ways to explain why there are so many more men than women in the top ranks of science.

Explaining this gender gap away with the cry: “brain differences!” just does not wash, however. Recent research on gender with regard to skills in math was carried out in 86 countries. The results strongly suggest that culture may be the culprit, not brain differences, that this difference is not biological, but sociocultural. Some countries just do not show this gap that is apparent in the USA, and it seems in countries where females are comfortable and successful in the world of math, there is a greater degree of gender equality. For example, in Russia and Asia girls are more apt to pursue scientific careers than in the US, Canada and England.

But here in the States, the gap has been narrowing. Girls who are considered to be “highly gifted mathematicians” now number 3 to 1, a vast improvement over the 13 to 1 ratio that was present in the 1970s. Women obtaining graduate degrees in math are also on the uptick, even though men are still holding 70% of those degrees.

Suggestions for improving this further? The researchers listed:

  • Increase math-certified teachers in schools
  • Work on decreasing the number of children living in poverty
  • Equalize the gender equality gap.

Easier said than done.

lean-in-coverWhen none other than Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg says that women “lean away” from challenging jobs in the corporate firmament because they want to off-track sooner than later to have their children, it’s hard to see how society can do even a 180-degree turn toward encouraging girls to pursue studies in science and math.

The really startling insight here is that research over the last half of the twentieth century, especially, has shown that women scientists (if they find the right sponsors and continue their careers while also having children) tend to focus on socially worthy science, such as disease cures, alleviation of poverty, hunger and homelessness, along with other humanitarian concerns. Male scientists have historically focused on research that is more driven toward industrial applications, such as improving military supremacy, space travel optimization and finance.

No wonder that so many female senators, congresswomen, university educators and other like-minded women are advocating the improvement and enhancement of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education for girls. We can only hope that a high percentage of them apply these skills to making real improvements on all of our lives – especially that of the current generation of their aging parents.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING

· “Sex on the Brain: Are boys’ brains different from girls’ brains? Scientists debate the question.” http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_nature/2011/11/boys_brains_girls_brains_how_to_think_about_sex_differences_in_psychology_.html

· “Stereotype Threat and Women’s Math Performance” :http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022103198913737http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/02/04/science/girls-lead-in-science-exam-but-not-in-the-united-states.html?_r=1&

· “The myth of equality in science classrooms” http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/tea.3660200205/abstract

· “Do the Math! Sex Divide Is Cultural, Not Biological” http://www.livescience.com/17429-math-gender-differences-myths.html

Healthful Food Boom for Boomers = Healthful Boon for Manufacturers, Supermarkets, Retailers, Restaurateurs

Tasty. Healthful. Convenient. Economical.

Think you can’t do all four? Think again.

These are the demands of the Baby Boomer generation, and food marketers are paying attention now more than ever. Although younger consumers who are considered the most attractive target audience for almost any other product category, consumer behavior studies indicated that single-person households, especially those in urban markets such as New York, Chicago, etc., don’t cook for themselves, and are more likely to consume meals away from home, and choosing outlets that don’t offer the most healthful options.

Meanwhile, Boomers are among the most health-conscious target audiences for manufacturers, supermarkets and quick-service restaurants. For example, Panera, whose 58-year-old CEO knows this is a literal sweet spot for him; SaladWorks, which offers almost limitless combinations; and the New York-centric QSR chain, Cosi. Health experts and media gurus alike – from Dr. Mehmet Oz to dietitians to exercise physiologists – are leveling pronouncements against the many myths about healthful foods, i.e., they are too expensive, too time-consuming to prepare, and not tasty enough.

Not true!

From the value and versatility of the humble egg, to other convenience foods for people on-the-go, the food marketing world is full of ideas to capture the attention of the vast crowd of over-50 consumers. And nowhere is that more obvious than in the supermarket industry. In fact, many favorite foods that have been supermarket staples for decades are now available in healthful, economical, convenient and tasty versions that don’t require a culinary degree to enjoy. A few quick examples:

“PB&J”: Adult fans of peanut butter know that there are more healthful options of the spread now than ever before – from reduced-calorie versions to honey-sweetened to 100% organic. There are more flavors, varieties and brands of fruit spreads, jams, jellies and preserves available in most supermarkets than anyone could make at home or buy from a small-batch supplier – and the flavors are superb. Long ago, New York Times columnist Jane Brody cited the peanut butter sandwich as her survival food for airport delays – and this was in the days when plane flights were nowhere near the epic odysseys they’ve become today.

Whole-grain breads: Speaking of PB&J, the variety of sandwich conduits available at a local supermarket is seemingly endless – whether whole-grain sliced, pita, rolls, brioches, Italian, Portuguese, French, on and on, take your pick, because you can! Not to mention the exhaustive array of healthful and exciting condiments, even among the low-sodium varieties.

Frozen Vegetables:Not only has the produce aisle gotten very sophisticated since the 1980s advent of the formerly exotic and now ubiquitous arugula and cilantro, to name just two, but the frozen aisle is positively space-age. The fact that plain spinach in a frozen block from the supermarket is something boomers’ moms prepared in the 1950s doesn’t make that spinach any less healthful. In fact, it’s just as healthful as, and could be more healthful than, that wonderful green stuff from the organic farmer’s market. Often it is actually fresher, thanks to modern processing techniques that quick-cook and flash-freeze vegetables at the height of their freshness. (Many thanks to Dr. Mehmet Oz for reminding all of us who read his 12/12 article in TIME Magazine of the handiness – and healthfulness – of our mothers’ spinach block).

Those are just three categories where food manufacturers and supermarkets are making it easier, more economic and more convenient to make healthful eating easier and a more flavorful experience. While it might seem obvious that affluent, achiever-Boomers are more interested in health than any other demographic, what has become evident to manufacturers and retailers is that we will spend the money on high-quality, convenient but NOT ridiculously expensive or “exotically sourced” foods.

The economic situation driving many boomers to multi-generational households, taking care of boomerang children, elderly parents and two-career duties, etc., also means boomers have less time than ever in their adult lives. It’s no wonder that every possible variation on healthful and convenient seafood, meats, legumes and dairy foods has also made the supermarket the one-stop community center of choice for so many boomers. In fact, many supermarket chains have on-staff dietitians and trainers to lead special health education events for consumers of all ages, and to help guide consumers through the supermarket’s most healthful product offerings.

A leading supermarket trade study reveals additional interesting statistics about Boomers’ food choices:

  • Portable foods make up one-quarter of our daily caloric intake in the United States. The 50-plus crowd is creating demand for healthful foods that are also fast and convenient.
  • U.S. consumers over 50 are becoming increasingly concerned about heart health, brain and vision health, and the prevention of cancer prevention. We worry about hypertension, diabetes, and bone loss/osteoporosis. Manufacturers are responding with a wide variety of healthful economical foods.
  • 50-plus consumers are more educated than in past generations, and therefore we’re more analytical (and sometimes skeptical) about the health claims we see on products.

Other important trends we’re seeing:

  • Boomers – especially women boomers – are causing physicians and other health professionals to be more accountable. The site of smart women poring over Internet health information sites on their I-Pads while sitting not so patiently in their doctors’ waiting rooms has become commonplace. And boomers are seeking out dietitians, personal trainers, executive coaches and therapists the way we seek out hairdressers, manicurists and shopping bargains: thoughtfully, analytically and with a strategic plan and budget in mind. Gone are the days of “Well, you know best, doctor (…or colorist or therapist).”
  • Boomers are more sophisticated about cooking and food than ever before, and scrutinize restaurants accordingly. All the more reason that we are eating IN more, and patronizing their local supermarkets because the supermarket industry has become much smarter and more sophisticated about cultivating this important target. Prepared foods departments have always been popular, with freshly-stocked salad bars becoming even more popular for meals on the go.
  • There is a real opportunity for food manufacturers who offer foods that are portable and at the same time tasty and healthful! Supermarkets are remodeling so formats are easier to navigate efficiently. Many retailers have visible, detailed and easy to digest (pun intended) information on the taste and health features of multiple varieties of apples, tomatoes and other versatile produce. Many have healthful food “destination aisles” as well as “on-the-go” food aisles.
  • Most major supermarket chains now have sophisticated data about shoppers’ preferences, so as to provide manufacturers with data that helps them serve consumers with more of the choices we prefer. Savvy manufacturers in the cereal, dairy, frozen food and whole grains categories, among others, have created marketing campaigns that are media sites of their own, cultivating consumers with diet information, health tips, quick-prep ideas and the like to generate more sales and preference among over-50 consumers.

Hooray for all the marketers, supermarkets, and to a certain extent, national restaurant chains, that recognize and appreciate Boomers are literally putting our money where our mouths are. The mantra “Attention must be paid” is not lost on smart food marketers and the gurus that influence health-minded consumers.

 

Reinvent Yourself!

Dare to reinvent yourself!  Here are some role models. 

How many other women over 40, let alone over 50, never attempt something new or frightening because they feel uncomfortable, inferior or otherwise unworthy? Do they just give up, rather than muster up the confidence to dare through their fears?

Being that there were few examples of women leaders to learn from, I set out to do my own study, focusing on strong women over 40 from various walks of life – not just business. I studied women over 40 in the arts, in politics, in nonprofits, in the sciences, and in other fields – seeking as many relevant examples as I could find.

 

Here are a few stellar examples:

 

Juliette Gordon Low, pictured left, who was 52 when she founded Girl Scouts of America.

 

 

 

 

Jean Nidetch, right, founded Weight Watchers, today the world’s most respected weight loss program, when she was 40.

 

 

 

Liz Claiborne, left, was a Seventh Avenue veteran in her late forties when she rightly perceived that the fashion industry was not serving the needs of everyday working women, and thus began and led a valuable fashion empire for decades.

Today, these women, and/or the companies they began, are household names. Not one of them thought of herself as a “super-woman.” Basically, they just saw a need, and dared to meet that need, despite several hardships along the way.

Business school aside, I learned more about leadership from researching these daring role models over 40 – their heartaches, as well as their triumphs – than I had in my entire career. What they, and their 21st century counterparts, can teach millions of women over 40 from all walks of life, is that having conviction, commitment, competence and confidence is not the sole purview of men over 40. Nor are hoodie-clad post-pubescent wunderkinds the only geniuses among us. These women were daring at a time when being over 40 meant you were “done.” Necessity may be the mother of invention, but daring are the mothers of reinvention.

All of us over 50 have the opportunity, power and duty, every single day, to become positive role models, whether for our peers or for the younger persons who look up to us. It’s high time we all do our part to mash the myths, slam the stereotypes and blast the biases that a woman over 50 is “over” or on a “short runway,” a bias term that seeps like sewage into the daily parlance of leadership coaches and H.R. executives alike when describing professionals over 40 – of any gender. In the current economic environment, that bias is reprehensible. Assert at every opportunity that you’re nowhere near “done.” And, whatever you do, stare down and prove wrong anyone who calls you a cougar, “toast” or “so frigging old.”

Remember the words of Robert Frost:

Between the woods and frozen lake,
The darkest evening of the year.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
And miles to go before I sleep.

 You have much to do and wonderful miles to go – so reinvent yourself!