You Throw Numbers Like A Girl

We've all heard statistics about how boys are better than girls when it comes to math. Especially the kinds of advanced math it takes to find solutions to complex problems, to win important prizes and to invent world-changing technologies. According to some people, you can blame this gender gap on basic biology. Female brains are smaller than male brains, which means males are just naturally smarter, and really, what else do you need to know?

It's easy to believe assumptions and stereotypes about girls and math when you look around classrooms where advanced technical subjects are taught. Fewer women fill the seats, and in the top math and science positions, men outnumber women by a dramatic margin. It seems like no matter how many women prove that female brains can be every bit as good at math and science, we still hear that women are just not cut out for crunching numbers.

In other words, if you're a girl and you like math, you should probably quit now, because you will never be as good as the boys. And if you're a girl and you just don't understand math, it's okay, you won't need math anyway. Like Barbie says, Math Is Hard! Let's go shopping!

Or not? Could it be that fewer women excel in math and science fields because they have fewer opportunities? Or because everyone tells them they will do poorly, so they never really try? Is biology to blame for the math-science gender gap, or is culture the culprit?

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says girls are not born to be bad at math. Instead, the authors say, the gender gap stems from cultural inequalities that put girls and women at an unfair disadvantage. Fewer educational and professional opportunities, negative stereotypes, and classroom or workplace dynamics all hinder the potential of girls and women to excel in math.

The authors of this study came to their conclusion by comparing data on gender inequality and math scores from around the world. They found that in countries where men and women had more equal opportunities, women did much better at math. If you're wondering where the United States stands, in 2007 the US was number 32 on the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report. Not the greatest place to be, but in the US it appears as though the math-science gender gap is narrowing. According to a recent article in the New York Times, there are now more opportunities than ever for women in science and math. If only they paid as well!

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

DO's picture
DO says:

Some brain research last year indicated that the parat of the brain that governs speech develops earlier in girls that boys resulting in girls genearlly relying more on verbal communication than boys. Since math is ideal for the verbally challenged, that could also be part of the explanation. Girls focus on other things...

posted on Fri, 06/12/2009 - 3:29pm
shanai's picture
shanai says:

That's an interesting thought.

I've heard similar things about the differences between girls & boys when it comes to communication skills, but again, I have to wonder how or if this kind of research is influenced by long-standing stereotypes (i.e. "women talk too much" and "men can't communicate, especially about feelings...")

Just something to keep in mind, I guess?

posted on Tue, 06/16/2009 - 10:08am
DO's picture
DO says:

The research indicated that the verbal part of the brain develops earlier in girls leading to earlier verbal skills. Girls thus tend to bond more by talking which boys do so by playing games etc. as a group. Thus girls and women rely more on talking than do boys and men. It's a case of aphysiologial difference leading to different socialization experience. Classic nature and nurture working in combination leading to different skills and interests. My obsevation is that almost all programmers seem to be guys becuase they don't have to talk much to others!

posted on Fri, 09/18/2009 - 3:40pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

If you are interested inlearning more about whatmay explain the difference between genders in math and science, google "mindset". Carol Dweck has research that shows how society encourages girls and boys differently when they are doing "hard" stuff.

Boys are challeneged, girls are told they are doing a "good job". We need to make sure we are treating our sons and daughters in the same way with the same opportunities to do "hard fun".

posted on Fri, 03/18/2011 - 1:20pm

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