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60-Second Science

Girls Equal Boys at Math

An analysis of performance on math tests finds that girls match boys. And no gender difference can be found among top performers either. Cynthia Graber reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

Remember when Barbie whined that “math is hard.” Maybe you got annoyed at hearing a popular female doll say that to little girls. Or maybe you also had a nagging suspicion that, in fact, boys are better at math. Well, the latest research is in, and the answer is a resounding no: boys are not more math savvy. The finding appears in the July 25 issue of the journal Science. 

Janet Hyde at the University of Wisconsin-Madison led the study. The group dug through piles of information from seven million students tested through the No Child Left Behind program across ten states. Researchers had detailed personal info on the test takers. Researchers checked out math tests in different grades. They took the average. No difference. Some critics have said that the difference only shows up among the highest levels of math skills. So the team checked out the most gifted children. Again, no difference. From any angle, girls measured up to boys. Still, there’s a lack of women in the highest levels of professional math, engineering and physics. Some have said that’s because of an innate difference in math ability. But the new research shows that that explanation just doesn’t add up.

—Cynthia Graber

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