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9 comments

So boys really ARE better at math?

Posted July 02, 2008 10:30 AM by julie
Pathfinder Tags: gender equality math gap

Well, boys in nations where women aren't treated equally, that is.

A recent study published in Science suggests that the "math gap" that is widely recognized in performance on tests of basic skills isn't related to biology as previously thought. It seems that social equality plays the dominant role in test scores.

The study looked at more than 275,000 students in 40 countries who took a particular exam. In summary:

Girls scored about 2 percent lower than boys on math on average, but nearly 7 percent higher on reading, consistent with previous test results.

The researchers, noted, however, that the math gap wasn't consistent between countries. For example, it was nearly twice as large as the average in Turkey, while Icelandic girls outscored males by roughly 2 percent. The general pattern of these differences suggested to the authors that the performance differences correlated with the status of women. The authors of the study built a composite score that reflected the gender equality of the countries based on the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Index, data extracted from the World Values Surveys, measures of female political participation, and measures of the economic significance of females.

In nations that score high on gender equality measures the math gap is extremely small. In contrast, nations at the other end of the spectrum which have the largest gender gap also have the largest math gap.

If you click on the study, too, you'll note an irony: It suggests that while the math gap correlates to gaps in social equality, boys' lagging reading skills don't. Female superiority in reading tests is slightly lower than average in Turkey, but the gap is actually wider in countries with greater equality between the sexes. In Iceland, for example, girls outscore boys by well over 10 percent. Of course that doesn't mean some other social factor isn't at work

Link to the study.

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#1

Re: So boys really ARE better at math?

07/03/2008 1:39 AM

In my opinion, there is no difference in the cognitive abilities of men and women. I wish we could get past these misconceptions, but when the president of Harvard reaffirms these ridiculous prejudices it shows we have a long way to go. You would have figured the work of someone like Madam Curie would have cleared up this issue. I think the problem is that we too often mistake aggression for intelligence.

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#2

Re: So boys really ARE better at math?

07/03/2008 8:09 AM

Family and community are the key:

Along with many similar activities, I made a point of bringing my daughter (when she was 3) to a picnic of the local engineering community (ASME), in the Schenectady, NY area, hoping to plant the seed of interest. I try and do things like this on a regular basis, and it's a joy for me to do so.

She played with the children of another engineer, and spent time breaking bread with folks from all the the world, both men and women ranging from their 20's to their 60's in age, who got together to share their enthusiam for engineering as a profession (as well as their enthusiasm for bbq'd hot dogs :).

If mom and dad have a love of math and science, and share their enthusiasm for it with their child by helping with homework, encouaging the child to participate in class, and providing good role models, then the ability will blossom, assuming there is native interest/ability, regardless of gender or location.

What works in Reykjavik works in Albany or Kabul the same way.

- april05 (proud dad) :)

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#3

Re: So boys really ARE better at math?

07/03/2008 9:33 AM

While there is a biological difference between male and female brains (easy, now, I'm talking about the kinds and levels of hormones present!) I seriously doubt that this transfers to a difference in cognitive ability (at least as measured by math and reading skills). In the long history of our species, it is likely that local territorial mapping by gatherers (foraging for nuts and berries) may have been somewhat different than long-distance mapping by hunters (pursuit of game animals) and would have prompted some minor traits to be gender-selected. But mental terrain mapping abilities call for similar thinking whether over short or long distances. Beyond that, our ancestors had fairly similar fields of endeavor for survival up until the rise of agriculture/herding and the village/city. And when did counting and writing become important? Shortly thereafter, eh?

So, am I surprised? Only that it took so long to figure out, and required a sophisticated study to do so...

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#4

Re: So boys really ARE better at math?

07/06/2008 2:48 AM

Let's see... My daughter, Ferrisette who was just promoted out of 6th grade, was tied for top in the class - with another girl. You had to go down 5 or 6 slots in the roster to get to the first boy. And this is a GATE (gifted and talented education) class. It doesn't surprise me. I can't wait to see Ferris jr. tear 'em up when he is that age, he will be up there with his sister. At 3, he has read his first book and is learning his vocabulary in both English and Spanish and counts up to 30 or so in English and mid 20's in Spanish. Oh and he can swim, too. I am sorry, I keep rambling. Proud of them both

Ferris

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#6
In reply to #4

Re: So boys really ARE better at math?

07/07/2008 7:26 AM

Proud, and rightly so! Keep up the good work, you seem to be doing mostly the right things by them!

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#7
In reply to #6

Re: So boys really ARE better at math?

07/08/2008 10:52 PM

Thanks, a lot of it IS hard work; especially with him. But still, it is SO WORTH it...!

Cheers Ferris

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#5

Re: So boys really ARE better at math?

07/06/2008 9:37 AM

ha ha ha! I'm sharing this with all my engineering women friends. thanks!

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#8
In reply to #5

Re: So boys really ARE better at math?

07/09/2008 1:44 PM

One reason that boys are better than girls in math is that boys have one extra digit to count with, so they get an earlier start. I recently read the book, E=MC squared by David Bodanis, and was surprised to learn that many women I never heard of were prominent in math and theoretical science. To name a few: Emilie du Chatelet, Mileva Einstein, Lise Meitner, Cecilia Payne.....

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#9
In reply to #8

Re: So boys really ARE better at math?

07/10/2008 3:34 PM

Thanks for replying with those names! We've featured Lise Meitner here on the WoW blog previously and we'll try to feature those others you've mentioned as well!

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