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60-Second Mind

No Gender Gap in Math

A worldwide study of nearly half a million boys and girls found no significant gender gap in math ability. Christie Nicholson reports

Stereotypes are usually the last thing to change in the face of contradictory evidence. A case in point is the long held belief that boys are better at mathematics than girls.  
 
Well a meta-analysis to be published in the journal Psychological Bulletin can be added to the pile of evidence that finds no significant gender difference in mathematical ability. 
 
Researchers analyzed results from two math tests that assessed nearly half a million boys and girls between the ages of 14 to 16, from 69 countries.  They tested algebra, geometry, data analysis and number concepts. The study’s lead author, Villanova University psychology professor Nicole Else-Quest found “…that on average across all the nations the gender difference was negligible.”   

But she and her colleagues did notice an interesting pattern, “When you look at the variability across nations you see it varies a great deal. There are some nations where girls do better than boys. There are some nations boys do better than girls.” 
 
Countries that had larger gender gaps favoring boys included Tunisia and Korea. And those favoring girls were Jordan and Bahrain.
 
But most countries showed no gender gap including the United States, Sweden, Germany.   
 
Else-Quest notes that there is some association between the status of women in each country and their ability to do mathematics.  

“The percentage of women in parliament was moderately associated with the size of the gender gap in math such that in countries where there were fewer women in parliament males tended to do better in math than girls by a larger extent than in countries in which there was better representation by women in parliament.” 

That connection would seem to imply that achievement levels are not innate and fixed.  

"And that these gender differences that we are seeing are not because they have different brains.. It’s because of social forces--which suggests that they can be changed.”

—Christie Nicholson

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