common sense knowledge

unraveling the taken for granted

gender and mathematical ability December 20, 2007

Filed under: feminism,gender — abject @ 9:29 am

Despite the attention paid to claims of substantial differences in various types of abilities—including mathematical, spatial, and verbal—between the sexes, it is remarkable that most research finds these differences to be trivial or small (even assuming that they can be measured properly and that all intervening factors can be accounted for). For example, using large national datasets on mathematical performance among children in the United States, sociologists Erin Leahey and Guang Guo found that there was only “a slight, late-emerging male advantage in mathematics among the general population of students,” with “no male advantage until later in high school, where the largest gender difference is 1.5%.” Furthermore, they did not even find large differences among high-scoring students, where it is commonly assumed that males will be most dominant. Using meta-analysis of existing research, psychologist Janet Shibley Hyde and her colleagues have found that not only are differences in mathematical performance across genders typically small, they have generally decreased over time (indicating that they are mutable), often favor women, particularly at younger ages, and that the gender that scores higher differs across ethnic groups. Furthermore, research shows that differences in mathematical performance among children across nations dwarf gender differences within nations.These types of findings have led Hyde to propose the “gender similarities hypothesis,” which holds that men and women are similar on most psychological variables, counter to the widespread, but largely unsupported, assumption that there are substantial gender differences. Read here the rest of the paper “Gender and Mathematical Ability: The Toll of Biological Determinism” by Richard York and Brett Clark


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