Gender Gaps in Math Don’t exist in some countries.

Fascinating reading about how some countries just don't have the gender gap in math that we see. Of interest to me, however, would not be the gap but also the aggregate — are these countries where there is no gap also at the top of mathematics performance?

Also, there is a self-perpetuating bit of it. My husband and I both went to an engineering college (Georgia Tech) and love math. Algebra is one of the great subject loves of my life. (I know I'm a geek.)

So, is it any wonder that my daughter is the top in the standardized test scores? No. I do find it interesting that she wasn't the top of the scores in class, however.

This article in the Boston Globe says

“boys outperform girls on a math test given to children worldwide, but the gender gap is less pronounced in countries where women and men have similar rights and opportunities, according to a study published Thursday.

“In more gender-neutral societies, girls are as good as boys in mathematics,” study author Paola Sapienza said in an interview”

I was raised as one of three girls and my Dad never limited what he thought I could do. I took apart computers, had a GI joe and a Barbie, threw the football with Dad and was allowed to freely be what I was interested in.

While I do believe in “acting like a lady” and that good manners are always in good taste, I don't really like dancing (I would have hurt someone) and cleaning house is like a torture to me! (I listen to audio books.)

When I went to Georgia Tech and was accused the first week of being there to “get my MRS degree” by some male students, I got very angry. I wasn't there to find a husband, I was there to learn something! I was also told that “because of your small school, you'll flunk out in a semester.”

I didn't even know what AP was when I went to Tech and didn't exempt a thing. Interestingly, I used my anger and knowledge that I was truly at the “bottom of the totem pole” to drive me to study and 4 years later graduated first of my class at Georgia Tech.

I say this not to brag, but to say that there is something to the fact that my Dad and Mom always encouraged me in math and science and never limited me. I never knew that girls weren't supposed to do some things.

I also have always subscribed to the fact that “success is the greatest revenge.” And when I went into the business world and lost a big deal that was cut in the men's room (to keep me out of it), literally. I could say “waaaa” but no. The best way to overcome discrimination is to be so good that they need you and to know that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.

So, back to these test scores. I think that everyone has the ability to do well in math. Perhaps parents are handing down their own bias that has been there for some time.

I don't know. What do you think? (Please read the article.)

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Cyberspaced Educator June 7, 2008 - 5:18 am

I remember having a very tense discussion with a female maths teacher trotting out the Iceland figures (I am a female physics teacher) who claimed that was ample evidence that boys brains and girls brains had the same capacity for maths (we say maths in Australia as opposed to math) and it is just enculturation that is responsible for boys out performing girls in maths.
Well Iceland is interesting because it is an example of the “founder effect”. The Vikings went and colonised the place, they had a harsh first winter and all but three females died and Iceland has a very genetically similar individuals for such a large population. For example the breast/prostate cancer gene is rife as one of the founders carried this bad gene. So it is possible that there is a very good genetic reason why females in Iceland show such aptitude for maths – maths aptitude gene/genes are more prevalent.
As for other “more equal” societies there may be a reason why girls do slightly better than gender discriminatory societies. Females have a greater chance of being math teachers in those societies and this affect the way maths is taught (in Australia many maths texts here have female input).
I teach physics and this is what I suspect is going on…
As boys have greater aptitude for maths, having a good or bad teacher has less of an affect. I have seen this as I have taken over from male teachers who lack systematic structuring of problem solving. Their board work show numbers flying all over the place with no consistency in the way problems are solved. When I take over boys grades remain reasonably consistent, however girls grades improve markedly with systematic problem solving strategies. Girls are far less intuitive in the way they solve maths problems. However being armed with a systematic approach girls have the ability to perform boys because boys have less organised thinking and are in such a race to solve the problem they are more error prone.
You just have to pick up any classes school books to look at the writing. Girls work – neat ordered clear… boys – messy, disordered, rushed… a sweeping generalisation I know… I have three children, one of each. Boy and girl as per above, then one boy who is ordered, meticulous with amazing clarity of mind. I am not saying these gender traits apply to all children (after all I also buck the trend as a female with messy writing and good problem solving skills…) but without generalising we can’t address the maths gender balance.
My blog –

Karyn Romeis June 9, 2008 - 8:15 am

I think it’s high time we moved on from this. Yes, boys and girls differ, but I don’t think this area is one the ways in which this is so.

Because I went to an all-girls’ school, we were never given to expect to be outperformed by the boys in those traditionally male subject areas. As a consequence, we had a chess team, we produced maths and science results that were comparable to the boys’, we made it into the maths and science olympiads. It simply never occurred to me that there were some subjects that boys were supposed to do better than girls. My top subjects were physics and English… in that order. I loved the mechanics section of the physics so much and was keen to study mechanical engingeering when I left school. It was when I tried to do just that that I discovered the wall of gender bias. None of the banks would give me a study loan for engineering, because the attrition rate among girls was so high (no doubt due largely to the level of abuse that Vicki experienced). I was devastated. There was no way my parents could afford to send me to university.

I knew I had inherited the talent from my Dad, who used to design hypothetical concept cars and mechanical apparatus of all sorts. I also knew that he should have studied something like mechanical engineering at university, but he had squandered his chances to do so, even had his parents been able to afford to send him (which is unlikely). I guess I had hoped to be able to do it for both of us, but it was not to be, because society said so.

My younger son appears to have inherited the same practical bent, the same ability to understand how things work on a nuts and bolts level (he explained the principle of a pulley to me when he was only 3). Both my husband and I know that he inherited that from me rather than from him and, because he is a Scandinavian and not given to predetermined gender roles, John is totally at peace with the idea, just as he was when his Dad left the contents of his workshop to his elder daughter rather than his only son, because he knew she would be the one to get the best use out of them.

It’s time to wipe the slate and let every child start with a can-do mentality – discovering their own unique limitations and proficiencies as the they go along.

Downes June 9, 2008 - 12:40 pm

I was having a conversation on this topic while I was in D.C. last week, and the other person was saying that there must be some genetic difference between boys and girls.

He explained to me, “I have kept them away from the influence of television and media, and yet the girls still seem to prefer pink and to wear dresses, while the boys still prefer to wear pants.”

I looked at him and said, “Wait a minute. What you’re saying is that there is a genetic predisposition to wear dresses? That’s absurd – what would such a predisposition look like? How would knowledge of dresses be encoded genetically?”

He was silent for a second and then realized what his position had committed him to. I continued, “what your example shows is that attitudes toward gender are so pervasive that even if you shield the child from them, they are still expressed.”

Girls can do math – the evidence is that they can do it despite an entire culture telling them (falsely) that they cannot.

GUNNY June 11, 2008 - 1:02 am

VERY interesting article.

Thanks for sharing it. I’ve just skimmed it, but look forward to a more in-depth investigation.

mrsdurff June 14, 2008 - 2:39 am

You have got to be kidding me. Algebra makes so much sense to me – I love it and teaching it (which I did last year). I guarantee you are far better than I. These similarities are getting downright eerie! You have GOT to stop already!

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