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Men And Women Think Women Are Bad At Basic Math 384

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the my-mom-makes-fun-of-me-for-sucking-at-diff-eq dept.
sciencehabit writes "Think women can't do math? You're wrong — but new research (paywalled) shows you might not change your mind, even if you get evidence to the contrary. A study of how both men and women perceive each other's mathematical ability finds that an unconscious bias against women — by both men and women — could be skewing hiring decisions, widening the gender gap in mathematical professions like engineering."
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Men And Women Think Women Are Bad At Basic Math

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  • In my experience (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CmdrEdem (2229572) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @08:07AM (#46453513) Homepage

    Women and men are equally bad at math. Specially at teaching math. It's not an easy subject and it's not a natural way to think about anything.

  • Obligatory xkcd (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @08:09AM (#46453523) Homepage
  • by Chrisq (894406) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @08:12AM (#46453535)
    What a shame that "ability at maths" is seen by TFA as the ability to "add up sets of two-digit numbers in a 4-minute math sprint".
  • by jbmartin6 (1232050) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @08:19AM (#46453555)
    My experience is that math gets easier the more you do it. In other words, practice makes perfect. I've also noticed that people who are inclined to accept "I am just not good at math" are less likely to put in the work and train their brains to think in math, and thus never learn it. I would not be surprised to find that the stuff the article talks about leads to more females taking that excuse and opting out of math rather than putting in the work.
  • uhh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by buddyglass (925859) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @08:24AM (#46453577)

    Think women can't do math?

    Hardly anyone thinks this because there is ample evidence to the contrary. Moreover, the average woman is probably about as good at math as the average man. But when you're hiring in a "mathematical profession" you're not looking at the entire population; you're looking at the set of men and women with relatively high mathematical ability. Within that set, at least in the United States, men outnumber women. This could very well be the result of socialization; I'm not necessarily arguing from physiology. But it's hard to argue with numbers []. The ratio of men to women among the set of SAT takers with a perfect math score, after adjusting for the fact that more women than men take the SAT, is 2.5 to 1. So, all else being equal we should expect about 28% of engineers and mathematicians to be women. Interestingly, if you look at the percentage [] of Math Ph.D.s granted to U.S. citizens (in 2010) women earned exactly 28%. With respect to engineering and computer science, approximately 20% of bachelors degrees (in 2008) were granted to women, so there may be work to be done there. My guess is that this is due to the stereotypical reputations of CS/Engineering (bearded hackers with poor hygiene and huge egos) being less appealing to women than to men.

  • by CastrTroy (595695) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @08:58AM (#46453759) Homepage
    Most people who are good at math also have very little ability to teach it, because it comes so naturally to them. Think about it this way. If you ask singers how to sing better, most of them would probably have no idea how to help you sing better, or what they were doing to make themselves sing so well. They just can, and they've been doing it since they were 3. Same goes for most people who are good at math. There are some people who are good at math who can also teach it, but I don't believe that the two skills are related in any way. Being extremely good at math might even be a hindrance. I know I tried to help a few friends in highschool with math, and I was very unsuccessful. I couldn't wrap my head around what people found so hard about basic algebra.
  • by Hognoxious (631665) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @09:21AM (#46453913) Homepage Journal

    My wife claims she is 'bad at math'. Yet she is a freeking human calculator and can figure most math out to 3 to 4 decimal digits in her head.

    No conundrum, no contradiction. She's good at arithmetic.

  • by fiziko (97143) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @09:32AM (#46454003) Homepage

    As a math and science teacher, I've seen multiple studies on performance of different genders in math and science. There is a gap in North America, although it's closing rapidly. (In the past 40 years, men have gone from having 20% higher averages than women to having 2% higher averages than women. Evolution doesn't act that quickly; it's a purely social bias.) Men still perform slightly higher than women in this region because there are still teachers out there who expect more from male students and push them harder. In other words, if the teacher *expects* female students to get 60s and down and *expects* male students to get 70s and higher, then that teacher who sees a male and a female student with 68% averages, then the teacher will work with the male to improve his performance, but not put in the same effort with the female student. It's a horrible thought, but it's still happening out there. The same is true for race factors, for "learning disabilities" (which I would rather call "learning anomalies" but that's another story) and more.

    Bottom line: there is a slight and closing gap between men and women in math and science in North America, not because there is any biological difference in this particular area, but because social biases that exist in the system are failing the female students more often than they are failing the male students.

  • Re:In the USA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by operagost (62405) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @09:42AM (#46454067) Homepage Journal
    Are they better at the social sciences? Because the dudes you have in charge down there are total idiots.
  • Hardly anybody... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fredprado (2569351) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @09:46AM (#46454091)
    Hardly anybody hires based on gender bias. You do not hire a gender, you hire a person. It doesn't matter if women in general are or are not as good as men in general at a given task, as long as the particular woman you are interviewing is.

    All this whining about "gender bias" and the following excuses to try to take responsibility from people for their own failures sickens me.

    Now, more on the topic, regarding gender differences, the average is not very different from men and women, so for basic math there is not much of a real difference. On the top, though, which is considerably more relevant to math and logic related profession there is a real biological gap, and no it is not social: []

    Men and women are quite different in many things, it is a politically correct idiocy to try and force the concept that these differences are only aesthetic.
  • by gIobaljustin (3526197) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @10:01AM (#46454185) Homepage

    There are experiments about what helps pupils best to get better with mathematics, and it has been shown that drill and constant exercise is the most effective way, even for complexer mathematical problems.

    That's a great way to train drones who don't understand the how & why, but not a great way to make people truly understand mathematics. I do what I do because I love it, and any facts I memorize I memorize because I happen to see them often, not because forced me to sit around and work out pointless problems. That sort of thinking is why math education is so abysmal.

  • by Immerman (2627577) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @10:02AM (#46454191)

    Until we come up with a solution to the difficulties posed by overpopulation and start living sustainably, life extension is probably a bad idea, it'll only aggravate some already major challenges:
    Option 1) Life extension is expensive - it doesn't directly complicate population issues notably, but it keeps the same rich bastards unfamiliar with modern technology and carrying really old prejudices in power even longer, making adaptation more difficult
    Option 2) Life extension is cheap - oops, now we've just aggravated the population explosion. Maybe it's only by another ten percent on top of the 40-70% coming out of Africa and Asia (who presumably mostly still won't be able to afford it), but that's still an extra billion people to deal with.

  • by jbmartin6 (1232050) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @10:14AM (#46454291)
    I disagree. Well, you are likely correct that there are ways to improve the teaching of math. But even people who aren't drones need to train themselves in the basics, it is only when the lower level stuff comes without thought that the higher level stuff becomes more accessible. And the only way to make the foundation second nature is practice. Someone who enjoys it has an advantage since they are more likely to get enough practice. It is the same in most endeavors, for instance sports. I've been mountain biking for years, I love it, but it was only after building the body memory for the basics like balance, braking, cornering, etc. that the higher level stuff like jumping became possible.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @10:15AM (#46454293)

    Could life extension be good?

    Compare two human beings. The first is our standard, run of the mill human, with a lifespan of about "threescore and ten", give or take a few decades. The second is someone who will live for centuries.

    Now ask both of them how important such issues like pollution, global warming, and sustainability. Who do you think will worry more?

    My money is on the person who will still be around in a century.

  • Re:Math ? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Princeofcups (150855) <> on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @10:26AM (#46454387) Homepage

    But it is plural - Mathematics

    In the rest of the world its called Maths

    The rest of the world do not all speak English. Pedantic pedantics.

  • by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @10:28AM (#46454407) Journal

    No, you learn *some* by rote memorization (and even then you're pushing the definition of rote memorization) but rote memorization is hardly the whole picture.

    For instance, I'm just about halfway through Calculus 1. Now I don't want to have to derive from first principles how to differentiate something, so I do have to memorize some rules. But I've not just rote memorized (for example) the chain rule as a procedure, I've also studied the proof of this so understand why the chain rule actually works. This makes the chain rule easier to remember and apply correctly than just memorizing the chain rule by rote without understanding how it actually works.

    Similarly, you can rote memorize what the sin and cosine functions do, but if you understand how the values sin and cos return come about, they aren't just mysterious functions that generate magic numbers and have a whole bunch of identities you have to remember. You can actually do something useful with these things.

    At the end of the day to take some real world problem and model it with mathematics, you can't just merely rote memorize a bunch of stuff, you have to understand it too so you can actually construct something useful with what you've learned.

  • by gIobaljustin (3526197) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @11:41AM (#46454933) Homepage

    If students learn something for the first time they tend to use their memory mostly without much understanding.

    Which is part of the problem.

    Only through training, execises they learn to use the concepts behind it and find out about the subtle problems behind it.

    One thing I hate is when people tell me how I learn and force me to do repetitive assignments that test only for memorization and do nothing to bolster one's understanding of the material, which is the sort of thing I was talking about. [] I had to deal with that garbage too much in the past, and never bothered to do any of the assignments.

  • by istartedi (132515) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @01:13PM (#46455773) Journal

    Here's another way of looking at it:

    If longer lives were optimal for our species, we would already be living them.

    Every species has an average lifespan. Parrots, tortoises, and whales are highly successful and live long lives. OTOH, flies and rats are also highly successful and live short lives.

    The species as a whole is "tuned" to live a certain period of time. This is a significant evolutionary parameter. The era of highly developed societies with extended lives due to advanced medicine is just a blink in time. We don't even know if our current level is sustainable or compatible with survival of our species as a whole. Yes, this individual would love to live a healthy 150 year life. You do have to consider what it will do to the replacement rate. Whales are taking a long time to come back. Long life seems to correlate with lower replacement rate. A population full of old folks might be more prone to extinction.

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