Men, Women and Statistics

“Perfect numbers, like perfect men, are very rare.” ~Rene Descartes

There’s a scene in the 1988 film Rain Man in which Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) recognizes how profoundly numbers and data are oriented in his brother Raymond’s head. Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) and Charlie are in a restaurant and the waitress drops a box of matches or toothpicks (I’ve since forgotten) and Raymond immediately, with a single glance, states that there are 397 of them on the floor. Turns out that he was right. His mind was more than just pretty good with numbers.

In the film Raymond was an autistic man with savant abilities. The film was criticized for creating a stereotype about autistic people, but for the purposes of this brief discussion I am more interested in the fact that Raymond was a male.

Years ago Susie and I befriended a street person whom we ultimately became very close to. Robert also had some savant characteristics. We learned eventually of his schizophrenia, but were early on tuned in to his keen fascination with numbers. He loved baseball for this reason.

Baseball is a wealth of statistics. Each player has stats, current and lifetime, which can be compared against other players’ stats. Each player also has a birth date, and other personal data which Robert vacuumed endlessly into his voluminous memory banks.

He was also a repository of railroad statistics, with knowledge too vast to report on here, but it was all about numbers. (eg.: the number of miles of railroad tracks in each state, and the percentage that was currently used as opposed to the amount that is abandoned.)

There are other reservoirs where statistics about. Hundreds of Government agencies produce whole libraries of stats. The Census Bureau is an agency committed to the accumulation of statistics. And Wall Street has its own army of minions collecting, and analyzing, statistics pertaining to valuations of everything from companies to commodities to international currencies.

Bell curves, standardized testing, probabilities, standard deviations, scales and a whole assortment of tools exist to evaluate the past, present and future for every kind of measurable, observable entity.

Personally, I am a numbers guy myself. I loved baseball in part for this reason. And the study of balance sheets and company stats for investment purposes is likewise fascinating. My career in advertising and marketing was similarly fascinating because of the stats generated, stats regarding numbers of leads generated, conversion ratios, web stats, sales stats, clickthrough rates, bounce rates… Numbers can be fun. Data can be fun.

My question is this. When you read a book like The New Market Wizards, which is a set of interviews with investment pros who have excelled in that field, they’re all men. Was it because of gender bias. How much of this attraction to numbers and analysis the result of nature and how much is nurture?

Peter Lynch, former manager of the Magellan Fund, was so immersed in numbers crunching and data analysis that he missed two to three years of his daughters’s lives when they went from 12 to 14. He was nearly a 24/7 slave of this passion, and he admits his life was out of balance, an error of judgment on his part.

Women, it is my observation, tend to be more relational. Is this also the result of nature or nurture? Is it a general rule that for women, people are more important than numbers?

Or is this an overgeneralization? I know it’s not cut and dried, but isn’t it to a large extent true?

So what I want to know is this. How often does this hyperkinetic fascination with numbers appear in women? Or do female autistic savants become oriented toward relationships more than numbers? Do they then call it a different name? I am sure there must be some stats on that somewhere? I’d be very interested in the data.

Originally published at

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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