- Girls under-perform boys in math.
- Boys are born with larger innate intellectual potential and this explains why boys are and have always been out-performing girls in math.
- Even if boys and girls math performance may be similar on average, there are many more boys with extremely high math capabilities than girls.
- Women’s nature include a tendency to prefer the more nurturing fields, such as nursing and teaching young children, to the more quantitative ones, such as mathematics, physics, and engineering. Therefore it may be a waste of time and money to expend resources directed toward trying to increase participation of women in these mathematics-intensive fields.
- Separate education of girls and boys in the single-gender schools improves math performance of girls.
As you may have guessed neither of the above statements is true. And if you doubt it, take a look at the recently published scientific article by Jonathan M. Kane and Janet E. Mertz "Debunking Myths about Gender and Mathematics Performance"
My short summary of the article's highlights:
The study above compared performance of boys and girls from 65 countries in a variety of tests and found no statistically significant difference overall in boys-vs-girls performance. In some countries, like Bahrain, girls slightly outperformed boys in math, while in others, like Tunisia, boys slightly outperformed girls. Interestingly, it has not always been this way. In the US a significant gap existed between the performance of boys and girls in the 1970th. The percentage of Ph.D.’s in the mathematical sciences awarded to U.S. citizens who are women has increased from 6 percent in the 1960s to 30 percent in the past decade. Ratio of boys-to-girls among those scoring above 700 in the SAT has changed from 13-1 to 3-1 between 60th and 90th. This suggests that sociocultural, legal, and educational change that happened in our society between 60th and nowadays is responsible for the advancement of girls in math.
OK, girls on average are performing as well as boys in math. What about the fact that there are many more boys at the top level of math elite? Is this nature or nurture? The authors compared number of girls who excel in mathematics performance at an extremely high level among many different countries and concluded that that it very much depends on the equality between men and women with respect to economic participation, educational attainment, political empowerment, and health.
How about the single-gender schools? The study analyzed test results of 8th graders in the 17 countries. Indeed, math advancement of girls in some countries may be explained by the single gender schools. However, the study concludes that this is not a rule and most likely caused by under-performance of boys in these countries or different educational experiences and patterns of school attendance.
In general authors write that mathematics performance of students largely reflects the academic standards and expectations of the community in which they are raised. Specifically, home environment is a primary determinant for success of children in school.
Top image by Demi-Brooke, distributed under CCL.