Is It True That Boys Are Better at Math Than Girls?
It has been shown that the level of mathematical competence, assessed in the early years of school, predicts our academic and career success (Bynner 2006). That is, kids with good math skills will have more opportunities academically, and later, in their careers. And, as surprising as it is, this relationship between math skills and future success is even more true for girls.
Due to this, and to celebrate International Women’s Day, we are going to talk about the gender stereotype in math and how it can unfairly affect the future lives of millions of girls.
Gender Stereotypes in Mathematics
In many countries, gender stereotypes imply that males are more proficient in mathematics than women. Yet there is no scientific evidence to support this supposed low yield of girls in mathematics by biological causes.
These stereotypes can have a big impact on girls, weakening their math learning which, in the long run, will have a negative effect on their performance (Eccles 2011) and (Spencer, et al. 1999).
How Do Gender Stereotypes Work?
The gender stereotype in mathematics implies that girls have more anxiety and less confidence in their math abilities, which ultimately affects their aspirations. Unfortunately, this means that these girls are less likely than their male peers to choose to study math in high school or later. In fact, high levels of math anxiety are related to lower scores on tests, fewer science courses taken, lower grades in those courses, and avoidance of certain career paths involving mathematics (Van Mier, et al. 2019).
What Can We Do?
A variety of actions should be taken to fight this stereotype and promote the participation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Let’s look at some proposals.
- If we plan interventions it is preferable to do it during early childhood before children can consolidate the concept of gender stereotypes.
- Parents play a fundamental role in preventing these unrealistic and negative perceptions of girls’ abilities in mathematics.
- In order to overcome the gender differences in mathematics, it is important to tackle the gender stereotype beliefs among teachers.
- An effort also needs to be made at school to overcome stereotypical gender representations in textbooks at all educational levels. Additionally, it has been demonstrated that stereotypical representations in textbooks affect students’ understanding of and anxiety related to science (Good, et al. 2010).
Generally speaking, to work towards change it is important that we are all conscious of the gender stereotypes that exist and we must be careful not to pass them on, whether directly or indirectly, to our children.
- Bynner, J., & Parsons, S. (2006). Does Numeracy Matter More? London: National Research and Development Centre for adult literacy and numeracy, Institute of Education, University of London.
- Eccles, J. (2011). Gendered educational and occupational choices: Applying the Eccles et al. model of achievement-related choices. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 35, 195–201.
- Good, J. J., Woodzicka, J. A., and Wingfield, L. C. (2010). The effects of gender stereotypic and counter-stereotypic textbook images on science performance. J. Soc. Psychol. 150, 132–147.
- Spencer, S. J., Steele, C. M., & Quinn, D. M. (1999). Stereotype threat and women’s math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 4–28.
- Van Mier, H. I., Schleepen, T. M., & Van den Berg, F. C. (2019). Gender differences regarding the impact of math anxiety on arithmetic performance in second and fourth graders. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 2690.
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