Editor's note: Soledad O'Brien investigates what it takes to succeed in science and technology fields in "Black in America: The New Promised Land – Silicon Valley" at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET on December 18 on CNN.
By Stephanie Siek, CNN
(CNN) - The idea that boys are innately better at math than girls does not add up, say researchers whose analysis of international math tests showed girls have the same ability as boys to succeed in math.
"If you take the averages worldwide, you do not see any gender gaps - boys and girls perform about the same, on average," said Jonathan M. Kane, one of the study’s authors.
"Debunking Myths about Gender and Mathematics Performance," by University of Wisconsin researchers Kane and Janet E. Mertz, suggests that cultural and social factors predict whether someone is good at math - not gender.
"We have to stop selling T-shirts to girls that say, 'I'm too pretty to do math,'" Kane said. "Our stereotypes are hurting our math education. If you take half the population and lecture to them about how girls aren't good in math and how no one will expect you to do well in math because you're a girl, you're building-in the cultural factor that makes girls not perform as well."
The study, published in the January 2012 issue of Notices of the American Mathematical Society, analyzed data from 86 countries through two international standardized tests: the Programme for International Student Assessment and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. It also looked at how girls and boys perform at the highest end of the math ability spectrum, in elite competitions like the International Mathematical Olympiad or in SAT math tests administered to students under age 13.
Kane and Mertz examined several theories about gaps in the math performance of girls and boys. One, the "greater male variability hypothesis," theorized that males have a naturally greater range of intellectual ability, with males forming a majority of those with extremely high ability and a majority of those with extremely low abilities, so males would tend to be the most high-achieving in math. If this were the case, the test results would show that boys tended to have the highest scores in every country, and that over time, they would continue to be overrepresented at the elite level.
But the researchers found that in many of the countries they compared, there was no gap between girls' and boys' average scores on the tests or between their performance at the elite level. In other countries, including the United States, such a gap existed in the past, but had narrowed with time. In the 1970s, there were 13 boys for every one girl who scored exceptionally high on the SAT math test as a child. By the 1990s, the ratio had decreased to three boys for every one girl.
The researchers also found that countries ranked higher on gender equity - how women perform relative to men in education, health, political power and economic participation - have higher math scores for both girls and boys. The United States ranked 31 out of 128 for gender equity, and on some tests, there was no gap between boys' and girls' test scores.
But even as the gap between boys' and girls' math scores has closed and the number of women pursuing math fields has increased, women remain underrepresented in elite university math departments, for example.
"What we really need to do is change our culture to tell people regardless of their gender, that they should try to be whatever they want to be," Mertz said. "For the U.S. specifically, we need more math certified teachers teaching math, especially in middle schools, and another thing we need is a more equitable society in which there are fewer kids growing up in poverty."
This is retarded(sorry). Everyone is just as apt to do anything... on average. both genders have naturaly gifted examples, but none more so than the other. I see most grades reflect more positivly on women in my school, but I think that is because us guys can be quite lazy.
Our bikes were: Orbit Romany with vaurois midification (Orbit is a framemaker based in Sheffield, UK) and a Surly Long Haul Trucker. It took about 6 months.
Remember that President Obama had recently awarded the highest teaching honors to the best Mathematics and Science Teachers (K-12) in the U.S.A., called the PAEMST (Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching). For the 2010 Awardees, generally two people represent each state. Of that total, 36 were Women mathematics teachers alone. For the 2009 PAEMST awardees, 36 were women Mathematics teachers. The percentage of women chosen for both Math and Science would be significantly higher than 50% if you chose to combine the two.
http://recognition.paemst.org/ I'd say that the Myth is Busted!
So why most our great scientists are men? If your so called "study" contrary to FACTS then you failed, simple.
Because we live in a patriarchal society in which women have been almost exclusively relegated to "careers" as housewives, discouraged from pursuing further education, treated as second-class students by math and science teachers, and consistently told, "You can't do that, it's too hard for girls," rather than being given a chance to try.
Women are RAPIDLY catching up in math and science in the workplace. Why? Because society is finally giving women a chance, and taking them seriously. I work in biomedical research. Some of the best and brightest lead researchers in our university are women. Trust me, they can hack the hard sciences just fine.
You must not know how science departments / research facilities work. The head of a lab has many different people working under him who do the research and come up with the theories. His name is just the most prominent on the papers produced but quite a lot of the cutting edge science research is currently being done by female research associates who work under influential male professors who are mainly just good at playing golf and delegating work as far away from themselves as possible to people they can pay 70% of what they're actually worth. But they'll be the ones getting the Nobels... i.e. Prof Snooty Face 'et al.'
Why are we even having this argument at all? Shouldn't our focus be on getting EVERONE (boys AND girls) to become better in math and science? Or does that not create enough drama and conflict to benefit those who would exploit it?
"What we really need to do is change our culture to tell people regardless of their gender, that they should try to be whatever they want to be," Mertz said.
Yep. That's the final point of the article.
'I'm too pretty to do math,"
I spent my career in research and have known a fair number of mathematicians, and, yes, female mathematicians are definitely prettier than male mathematicians. But that's just about the only difference I've ever noticed–all mathematicians are equally weird people, even by the standards of us physics weirdos. :-)
I just finished up a higher level math course (calculus 3) at a college in the midwest and i think i could i count on two hands the number of girls in the lecture of 250 students. I think woman are just not interested in engineering or know that if they pursue a field in math and science they will be surrounded by mostly guys and so they choose another major. Thats not to say woman are less intelligent by any means. Im only pointing out that the ratio is staggering. In my recitation for that class there was only one woman. The school i go to is made up of 53% guys and 47% woman.
It starts waaay earlier than college, which is what this article is pointing out. I'm pretty sure by college we have figured out that boys don't have cooties.
You know who's really good at math? Them Asians. It's like it's all natural and crap for them. Ever know an Asian who wasn't good at math? Didn't think so. You gotta math problem to solve? Do you turn to your Irish friend? Hell no, you call good ol' friend, Fong. He's got your mathematical six.
This article is as dumb as the "facts" presented by the people who did the study. When will CNN start filtering stupidity out of their articles?
-The study states that one hypothesis is that males have a greater variability, and that some will perform much higher, and others much lower. This means the AVERAGE of those males would be the same you idiots! It would also mean that if you looked at the top 5% or 10% of test scores, MEN would be represented much more than women (which I venture is the case).
-Every bit of "evidence" they bring forth deals with "averages". We are not averaging anything. Look at the top percentages and still tell me you see the same number of males and females. You won't.
But heaven forbid we put out a study that doesn't abide by political correctness. "Politically Correct – killing logic and science since ____"
I would like to specifiy that I don't care what the study concludes in terms of boys or girls better in math. Both should be encouraged to do well in math and neither gender should use some "predisposition" to justify poor math abilities.
Encourage everyone to do well – but there is absolutely no need to put out a study which has INCORRECT conclusions drawn from it.
Brian, re-read the article. They were looking at the average scores... of the top tier. The methodology at least as far as that is concerned, is sound. The sample is of the population that they are interested in.
Ewww, what's with all the nasty ignorant comments? Study hard and have confidence that you can learn, no matter what dangles or doesn't dangle between your legs. I'm a lady and did well in AP Calculus in high school and advanced statistics in college. I also come from an Eastern European culture that expects boys and girls (both) to be excellent in math.
"Cultural and social factors" determine math ability? How about genetics? I have an undiagnosed learning disability called disculcula. Due to a lack of information about learning disabilities in my culture when I was in high school, I was never tested and as result I failed math three times. Learning disability isn't just for reading.
Surveys, data and their analysis are good for breaking down gender and cultural biases. And, I am sure this article does some of that. Personally, I have never had any doubt about the capability of females. As a matter fact, I find them more intuitive, patient and reasonable. This I say not because of 8+ years of living in an equitable Canadian society, but having spent 30+ years in India before Canada.
fexofrcogirl on December 11, 2010 Did I hear him correctly? He 2.5 hours of cardio a day? That sounds like a lot.
Math is like so stupid anways its not good for anything hey look new shoes... and they are full of crackrocks! it's my lucky day! BYE BYE math losers
Sound like a bias so call “research” to me. It appears they went looking for ways to prove their conclusion. Looks like the “facts” were cherry pick. Why look at a sample group of students under the age 13. Most people of that age group have only been taught the very basics of math. It is the higher math that females “tend” to have trouble with. I don’t care one way or another but I hate these phony PC studies. They make all studies look bad.
Now if only they can perform a study that debunks the myth that girls are inherently better than boys at verbal skills! Then we would be even.
... I bet you that it will be a long wait before such a study is performed to debunk that. It's never okay to say that males are better than females at something, but it's okay to say that females are better than males at virtually everything.
In Engineering, you'll find that the women score as high or higher than the males...
However, there are very few of them (~15%). Obviously, only a small percentage of the girls can make it through a rigorous technical program (Engineering is much more than just math BTW).
These studies tend to leave out the real proportions and selectively cherry-pick only what supports the agenda.
The bottom line is that girls aren't as interested in the technical fields - why?
The fact that many boys are struggling in school needs to be factored in to the analysis.
I don't think this study tells the whole story. What about the inate desire to pursue certain areas of study. I have seen some very gifted female math students decide to pursue careers where the hard sciences is not a requirement (e.g. teaching, nursing, etc) and when I ask them why they decided to pursue those careers they all say similar things – I wanted to help people directly.
There have been studies that show that career choice is highly influenced by how society see a profession. ("Why so Few?"- by the AAUW). Even girls who are good at math and science are less likely to pick it as a career because they see it as "a man's jobs". This is similar for boys in teaching and nursing.
I agree, Billy. My situation was the reverse of your suggestion. I wasn't naturally exceptional at math, but my chosen career required lots of higher level math. So I worked hard to learn it.
Men think three dimensionally. As in plane geometry. As in architecture. Women accept abstractions more readily than men. This is why they adapt to programming so easily, and why female chemists are paid more than male chemists. By lumping everything together as "math," this article glosses over this.
well the point of the article is not whether or not the drive is there to suceed; it's about whethere males are females are naturally gifted in math while the other is naturally lacking. It's true that career choice and willingness to succeed does shape a lot about one's future, but that would not be relevant in their study.
Billy, nurses have always needed to know math–move a decimal point when calculating a medication dose and you can kill someone, literally. Now they had better be good at statistics in order to track patient outcomes for reporting to external agencies.
But what about in higher education? K-12 math is simple. I want to see data from advance mathematics. I'm all for women's rights and equality, but I've seen lots of studies that suggest men are more able to handle higher-level math than women.
I'd like to see those studies. As a women with a PhD in Physics I've meet lots of men who think like that and they are WRONG.
"As a women with a PhD" LOL
As a women with a PhD in Physics I've meet lots of men who think like that and they are WRONG.
"As a women," "I've meet lots of men." Classic.
PHd as Pernanent Head Damage?
Weren't the a bunch of studies that proved the contrary? Women when not ignored are better at math than men. Who knows, in our family we push all the kids to do well in math and science, doesn't matter if it's a boy or girl.
I remember at least one of the studies was from Johns Hopkins, and I believe another was at Harvard. Since you're a professional in an academic field, look them up in your library databases.
As a woman with a MS and near PhD in statistics, I can say that in my workplace (all technical folks, engineers, IT, network security), I have not only nearly the best mathematical mind, but also the best writing skills. The better mathematician, I would add, is also a female.
Actually, Kane and Mertz's study did look at that data on high-achievers, and I alluded it to it in the story. The study was quite comprehensive, and unfortunately there wasn't room to fully explain every one of their examinations in this article. There is a link that will take you directly to the study, where you can see their methodology and results regarding the question of whether women were just as likely as men to be represented at the advanced level.
And part of the reason they used on testing data from the K-12 range is because that's where the standardized test data sets are – there are far fewer internationally recognized standardized tests that examine the performance of people at the post-secondary (i.e. college or university) or post-graduate (master's or doctorate degree) level.
Hope this answers some of your questions.
Be aware the authors of this study are sociology professors associated with the Gender Studies program at the University of Wisconsin, so you know they won't be biased in any way whatsoever.
Ken, double check your facts... yes, both of these professors are affiliated with sociology and women's studies departments because of their interests. But Janet Mertz is a professor of Oncology at UW-Madison and Jonathan Kane is a professor of math and engineering at UW-Whitewater. Their interest in this topic comes from years of observing the view that innate ability differences explain the gender gaps in math and science fields as opposed to what those of us in the fields know that it is: environment, encouragement, and opportunity.
I've made this case for years. One's ability has nothing to do with gender or environment or any other outside factor. It is based purely on whether or not that person wants to strengthen the areas where they're weak. If a person wants to be good in math, they will work to become better. They also have to see the value in math in order to become better.
While I agree that personal choice (and thus work ethic) are an important factor to intelligence/mastery of a field, there are other influencing factors. Genetics are likely a small but not unimportant factor (especially when considering people at the very extremes – the very gifted and the mentally challenged).
And when it comes to personal choice to improve oneself, that is directly influenced by one's environment. I believe (but don't have the data – would love to see some studies) that the main reason why children of well-educated parents are "smarter" on average (as measured by test scores, likelihood to earn a degree, etc) is mostly due to the fact that their parents obviously value education and teach that value to their children. I'm personally lucky that although my parents never went to college they saw the value of education and transferred that desire for education to me and my siblings. Other social influences almost certainly play a role. ie most men don't knit or sew, but that fact isn't due to any innate lack of skills. It has everything to do with social values/societal norms. If societal norms/stereotypes are passed on by family, friends, and society they can definitely influence a person's choice of career. And obviously as these norms change over time you will see their effects (closing gaps in gender, ethnic gaps).
As an aside I happen to know Janet, or the Mertz as we liked to call her. I went to grad school in her department at UW-Madison. Interesting to note, she has a son who is some sort math savant. And no she doesn't have a daughter, if any of you were thinking of some sort of anecdotal "gotcha". Remember; the plural of anecdote is not data.
I am a woman who was always poor at and frustrated by math and science until I had some good teachers (males and females). But I never went very far in either area, having preferred subjects such as English, foreign languages, and history. The senior math teacher in our Indiana high school, by the way, was an old woman, very smart and strict. That was back in the 1960s. And my mother was always better at math than my father was; her father was a civil engineer.
I really admire ANYONE who is good at science and math, but I have to say that over my lifetime (I'm 65 now), I have certainly known more males than females who were INTERESTED in math and science. Also, I know very few females who say that they were ever pushed in one direction or another; I never was, and as far as I can remember, it was the girls who were given more attention in classes on every level: grade school, high school, and college.
I simply carved out my own educational path according to my own interests. I had eight years of foreign language education in high school, and have studied four foreign languages. Now I'm a tutor, translator, and editor. Our son, who was always crazy about science and math, is getting a PhD in Bioinformatics, and my husband has two degrees in math.
To each his (or her) own! But what does seem obvious is that we need to put more emphasis on good science and math education in this country in general, for both males and females. We are woefully behind many other countries.
You went to highschool for 8 years? ;-)
we already knew this...
This is the biggest non-story of the month. Who cares if American girls are as inept at math as American boys?
I've been teaching Calculus for over 10 years. More often than not, the best student in the class is a girl.
Liar, I doubt you can even spell calculus without help.
I found the same thing after teaching high school Physics for 5 years.
That's not at all unusual – in fact, as much research has indicated, boys generally perform worse in high school across subjects than girls.
It doesn't take any sort of innate ability to be good at high school calculus – anyone with average intelligence and a little work ethic can memorize formulas for basic integration, etc. The question is whether or not there is a gender gap at the advanced level (Putnam Fellows, Fields Medal winners and such).
That's a whole lot of studying and reporting about a stereotype I never knew existed. Go girls...I guess.
Unfortunately, I run into it all the time. When I ask women about mathematics, more often than not if she doesn't enjoy it, I'll hear something like, "Well, you're a guy..." or something, as if that's supposed to explain everything.
My math teacher used to drum this into us when I was a kid – and I'm not even 40, so it's not that long ago. Mr. Pantazonis, who I had for 5th & 6th grade in public school in NYC. He'd give one problem set to the boys in the class and then tell the girls that we didn't have to do it because it would be hard. Or he'd only call on the boys who raised their hands because he'd say that he didn't want to slow the class down explaining to the girls. He acted like he was doing us (the girls) a favor, that he didn't want to stress or embarrass us. So I basically missed two years of math education – along with all the other girls in the class. Then guess what? By 7th grade, we really were much worse at math than the boys! We were two years and a million miles behind them and never expected to catch up because we believed we lacked the ability. I believed all girls were bad at math until I switched to a girls' school – and hey, the girls could really do math! It took me a long, long time to catch up – but I did it.
That's outrageous! I would complain to the school board and have that guy fired! Makes me mad.
I too was told as a kid that girls just can't be good at math and sciences and shouldn't even try. Luckily for me, I always wanted to prove people wrong. I have a PhD and run a biophysics research lab. I see good and bad students, it has nothing to do with gender, just interest.
I'm not prejudiced. All human beings are equally contemptible to me.
Maybe it's the garbage that American women watch on TV.
As opposed to the garbage that American men watch on TV?
Why are you focusing on the "Female Math Deficiency" in US Schools instead of the MUCH larger overall deficiency that young men are facing in US Schools? Poorer overall average performance relative to girls, less likely to attend College, far more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD and drugged, more likely to commit suicide, more likely to be diagnosed with a learning disorder. Schools in America are failing our young men, and DRAMATICALLY failing our minority young men... time for CNN to catch up with the times.
We can't be concerned with both?
Sure we can, which is why there should be more articles on the problems that males have.
We can and should be concerned about both. Girls and the success of girls get a lot of CNN attention, what I question here is the lack of focus (on the part of CNN) on the proverbial Elephant in the room.
I agree, Dave.
It is because ignorant people STILL tell little girls they can't be good at math and sciences and should not even try. We need to stop telling kids they are unable to learn, we need to help them reach their maximum potential.
I agree that there are Neanderthals out there still... but there are also the 'you go girls' who are now in positions of power in academia and pushing an equally defunct agenda. I had one PhD sociologists talk about how girls were disadvantaged in education in the 50's and that's why they didn't excel (which I agree with). In the next breath she suggested that drugs would be an appropriate way to deal with the fact that boys are disadvantaged now... I couldn't believe the stupidity.
Dave, there are many aspects of our education system AND society that are screwed up. There are many different demographics facing their own challenges. THIS article happens to be about females in math and science. There are also the issues of minority inequality in education. There's the bullying and abuse issues for GLBT youth. There's GENERAL bullying. And then there are the false gender-standards forced on both boys AND girls, which are damaging to BOTH genders.
Yes, there are a lot of things to fix. THIS article, however, focuses on ONE of those things. As a biologist myself, and having been a math and science tutor since 8th grade (yes, I was an official tutor when I was in 8th grade – I finished 8th grade math in 7th grade and spent 8th grade tutoring my peers), I've seen enough of what happens in math and science classes to know that this report is true. Girls are just as smart, but aren't encouraged to be confident in their abilities in math and science.
Could have fooled me. I've been tutoring kids for years, and I have found that the VAST majority of boys do better in math than girls.
Good thing anecdotal evidence is in no way used to make scientific findings then. You ever consider it was you who had a bias?
Why would you think there was any bias?
This article doesn't dispute your experience at all- it merely points out that the differences in performance aren't inherent to the fact that the student is male or female; rather, it has to do with cultural and other reasons.
Peter, if you consistently look down your long nose at your female students and make small or blatant remarks about how stupid girls are, those girls are going to turn off from you and your subject. Maybe you should get your act together and treat all your students with respect and work with each on their deficiencies while acknowledging their strengths. People like you are while education fails.
Interesting observation, Peter. As a tutor I assume you already have a skewed subset, since kids "good" at math wouldn't even be using a tutor. So do you say that because you tutored more females than males? Or that within your subset of students the males learned it faster or better than the girls?
What are "Researchirls" (under the picture)
Good question! Whatever they are, they "outperform boys on standardized math tests in several countries."
A girl wrote that. Looks like they are spelling deficient as well. Hey, lady, there's a reason for the red squiggly line under that word!
I assume it's supposed to be "Research: Girls".
Maybe its just American women that are dumb.
Scottie: go wipe someone's butt.
Apparently American males as well.
Scott, get a snow shovel and help the troll clean himself.
Julie, yes, all are dumb and getting dumber at high speed.
Because girls are discouraged from engaging in engineering and technical fields from a young age.
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