Gender and Math/Science Ability

Although throughout history the idea that men are better at math and science than women has prevailed, studies have shown that there is no real reason for this belief to continue; men and women are equally equipped and capable, by nature, to succeed in math and science, or fields that require these subjects.

The idea of boys being better at math and science than girls comes from cultural trends rather than biological facts. But, since parents and teachers believe it, the young girls they are influencing believe it as well. “It keeps girls and women out of a lot of careers, particularly high-prestige, lucrative careers in science and technology” [1]. But, this may be changing. In the 70’s and 80’s, tests showed boys and girls to be equally capable in math during elementary school while girls fell behind in high school- most likely because they were taught that they were naturally not as good for so many years. However, in 2002, researchers found no difference in boys’ and girls’ abilities, even in high school 1. This could be evidence of the mindset changing, as well as proof that the schema is incorrect. Another study showed that social and environmental factors, rather than gender, influenced the discrepancy in boys’ and girls’ math abilities. This study used students from around the world and concluded, “instead of being gender-based, gaps are linked and vary with overall social and economic conditions of the nation” 2. Similarly, in the 1980s, middle school males outscored middle school females on the math section of the SAT at a rate of 13-1. In 2013, the ratio was only 3-1. “If girls were so constrained by their biology, how could their scores have risen so steadily in such a short time?” (3)3

Also, the scores that the conclusion that boys are better at math than girls are from standardized tests (particularly the SAT), which may not be an accurate indicator of true ability, since these tests are not truly representative of all students (usually just college bound students. They also test test-taking skills rather than actual ability.4

It is encouraging to see more and more proof of gender equality in school, and from an early age. I believe that embracing this truth during early education can lead to a more equal playing field in terms of numbers men and women in computer science or technology-based fields, as well as the perception or stereotypes of scientists of each gender.

[1] Quaid, Libby. “‘Math class is tough’ no more: Girls’ skills now equal boys.” 2014.Web. <http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=5456561&page=1&singlePage=true&gt;.

2 News Staff. A Biological Basis for Gender Differences in Math?. Science, 2013. Web.

3 Pollack, Eileen. “Why are there Still so Few Women in Science?” The New York Times: all. 2013. Web. 15 September, 2014.

4 Hall, L. (2007). Nature, nurture: What’s behind scientific ability? Who’s afraid of marie curie?: The challenges facing women in science and technology (First ed., pp. 35-36-55). Berkely, California: Seal Press.

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