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Math Education

The Myth of the Mathematics Gender Gap 588

Coryoth writes "The widely held belief that there is disparity in the innate mathematical abilities of men and women has been steadily whittled down in recent years. The gender gap in basic mathematics skills closed some time ago, and recently the gap in high school mathematics has closed up as well, with as many girls as boys now taking high school calculus. Newsweek reports on a new study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that begins to lay to rest the remaining argument that it is at the highest levels of mathematics that the innate differences show. Certainly men dominate current academia, with 70% of mathematics Ph.D.s going to men; however that figure is down from 95% in the 1950s. Indeed, while there remain gaps in achievement between the genders, the study shows that not only are these gaps closing, but the size of the gap varies over differing cultures and correlates with the general degree of gender inequality in the culture (as defined by World Economic Forum measures). In all, this amounts to strong evidence that the differences in outcomes in mathematics between the genders is driven by sociocultural factors rather than innate differences in ability."
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The Myth of the Mathematics Gender Gap

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  • by MrMr ( 219533 ) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @04:05PM (#28186943)
    Testosterone helps build muscle mass. Men have higher natural testosterone levels
    Men and women will get equal physical strength when equal amounts of steroids (anabolic or androgen) circulate in the blood stream.
  • by thetoadwarrior ( 1268702 ) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @04:21PM (#28187157) Homepage

    In short, if there's a difference, it's not the sex, it's the sexism. Anyone who can't acknowledge this is a bigot and a twit.

    That comment is just as ignorant as anything a bigot would say.

    I'd say it's not boys stopping girls from taking maths in school and it's not boys stopping girls from taking programming. In fact, from my experience in school, and what I've seen, most school aged boys would love to have a girl that was into something that they found cool.

    Sure sexism plays a part in some instances but like everything else it's not black and white. A lot of girls don't do math because that's not where the cool boys are. Their social standing would take a hit if they were caught carrying a calculator and hanging around the nerds and yes believe it or not, a girl's self image means a lot. Hence the market for make-up, push-up bras, high-heel shoes, fad diets and anything else that will make them feel like they're something they're not.

    And no those things aren't forced upon girls either. Which is why girls with a lot of image issues (and especially food issues) go through a lot of boyfriends because the guy gets fed up listing to them talk about what they're not going to eat today.

    It's not the case with all woman, because again, not everything is black and white, but a lot of girls compete amongst each other to attract boys and math will only attract nerds in their eyes.

    So let's not be ignorant and just blame everything on men being some sort of evil being because it's simply not true.

  • Physical strength (Score:5, Informative)

    by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @04:57PM (#28187719)

    I'd say that's inaccurate, too. It would be more accurate to say that the top end of all women can't reach the level of raw strength as that of the top end of all men. There are many women who are stronger and faster than a number of men.

    Completely accurate but incomplete. Men on average have significantly higher upper body strength than women. Aside from being simply obvious there is a vast amount of data to support this thesis. Men overall also have greater ability to build muscle than women. One simply has to watch a bodybuilding competition to see the difference in potential. There are some women that exceed many/most men in a given sport but no women that exceed all men when strength matters. Outside of a few niche sporting events, men hold virtually all athletic world records where strength is a meaningful factor. This holds true at every level of competition and every age past puberty. Even at relatively low levels of performance and even with adequate training most women measurably under-perform their male counterparts in most sports. If these differences did not exist, there would be little reason to have women compete separately from the men.

    I cannot reasonably address the mental differences between men and women but there is NO question that men are physically stronger on average or in peak potential. It's ok to admit that there are at least some differences between men and women.

  • by story645 ( 1278106 ) <story645@gmail.com> on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @05:33PM (#28188223) Journal

    ... Since men are better at math (and generally smarter), they're less likely thwarted by the job interviewers at schools to take the crappy teaching job for ideological reasons.

    Guys don't teach cause it's a traditionally female field* (read here for usual reasons [go.com]) not 'cause they can get better jobs. The equally gender skewed male equivalent is probably a technical job like repairmen, carpenter, or electrician.

    *acceptableness of male teachers is inversely proportional to age of student, which is why there are as many male professors as female ones, but very few male pre-school teachers)

  • by Etcetera ( 14711 ) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @05:43PM (#28188381) Homepage

    Well, I'd argue that its pretty well established that women can't compete in raw strength to the same level as men, so in many athletic fields they can't.

    I'd say that's inaccurate, too. It would be more accurate to say that the top end of all women can't reach the level of raw strength as that of the top end of all men. There are many women who are stronger and faster than a number of men.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_and_intelligence [wikipedia.org] - variation (standard deviation) is higher in males than in females across a number of different measurement categories, including (presumably) factors that lead to any posited mathematical ability. This has been put forth to explain the "drop-off" effect in any number of fields.

    See also http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121691806472381521.html [wsj.com] and of course, The Bell Curve...

  • Re:...or maybe (Score:3, Informative)

    by Alexandra Erenhart ( 880036 ) <(saiyanprincess) (at) (gmail.com)> on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @05:53PM (#28188525) Homepage
    Oh, if I had mod points I'd give one to you, because what you say is completely true. I've lived some of that discrimination and predisposition against me for being a woman in the math and physics fields. Of course I like to prove everybody wrong so if I have to work twice as much to achieve that, I'll do it just to rub their own words in their faces. I think that's what has motivated me the most when it comes to science. Science itself is very interesting to me, but proving everybody wrong is priceless :).

    And I always thought that females were conditioned by society to not to be interested in the hard science fields. I have yet to see how much influence does environment and culture have, compared to the fact of having a XX chromosome, when it comes to math.
  • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @06:30PM (#28188985)

    "I mean, at least link to an fMRI scan between two genders while they solve spatial patterns."

    Beware, neuroscientist. fMRI is getting to the point where, if you're an optimistic person, you might believe it can indicate general position of activation, given a good study design and competent analysis. Meaningful indications of the size of the activated area, or the amount of activation? No way.

  • Re:CS (Score:5, Informative)

    by Eli Gottlieb ( 917758 ) <eligottlieb.gmail@com> on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @07:09PM (#28189431) Homepage Journal

    Dang, moderators give you +2 Funny now just for posting a link to an XKCD?

  • Re:...or maybe (Score:4, Informative)

    by cptnapalm ( 120276 ) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @07:18PM (#28189515)

    "There are various studies showing that women make less than men for the same jobs, and this is blatant discrimination."

    Are those the same studies that also show that women at the same jobs work fewer hours per week, take more time off, drop down to part time more often and retire earlier?

    Women do, indeed, make up the bulk of new vets, but the gender switch may have the odd effect of sharply reducing the number of active vets in the future. There are already shortages of vets for farm animals.

  • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @08:11PM (#28190025)

    Perhaps I've misunderstood what you've said. fMRI does not show anatomical differences such as differences in size of various brain structures. It is sensitive to variations in blood perfusion, which reflect differences in metabolism in response to brain activity.

    Perhaps you're thinking of standard anatomical MRI, which can be used to look at differences in volume of brain structures.

    Infrared techniques are also sensitive to blood perfusion. They measure something very similar to what fMRI does, although in a somewhat more direct way. Unfortunately, they are only sensitive to tissue close to the surface of the brain. PET using labeled glucose is directly sensitive to metabolism but generally not on a timescale that is useful for looking at something like brain activation during a specific task.

    None of these techniques are really able to provide good evidence for or against Rogers' hypothesis.

    BSc in neuroscience?

  • by ancarett ( 221103 ) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @08:49PM (#28190343)
    Some colleges and universities are preferentially offering more admission spots to male candidates than otherwise they would. Why? In order to redress the gender imbalance that's seeing fewer men than women enroll. (See this article from 2007 in US News & World Report [cbsnews.com].)

    Last month also saw the 2nd Conference on College Men [naspa.org] which also dealt with some of these concerns.

    As an academic and someone who advocates wide access to all sorts of education, I want to see everyone have a chance to study for what they want to and can manage, men and women.
  • Re:Um... what? (Score:2, Informative)

    by babble123 ( 863258 ) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @09:57PM (#28190855)

    Have you considered the possibility that children actually don't acquire their values exclusively from their mothers? But rather, acquire them from their interaction with the culture at large? Have you considered the possibility that, just for example, schools are sites of sustainable transmission of values between the children themselves? So that kids end up learning a very large chunk of their values from peers and kids slightly above their grade.

    This is the central argument of an excellent book called The Nurture Assumption [google.com] by Judith Rich Harris.

  • So did we. In most countries, schooling is a full time (36 to 40h/week) activity. So worried about your kids when you have to go to work that you need to bring them by car: drop them off and they'll hang out in a study hall where they can work on whatever they need to work on.

  • Re:...or maybe (Score:2, Informative)

    by humppamies ( 1556113 ) on Wednesday June 03, 2009 @03:27AM (#28192727)
    Well here are some:

    http://ec.europa.eu/employment_social/publications/2006/ke7606200_en.pdf [europa.eu]
    http://www.bmfsfj.de/bmfsfj/generator/RedaktionBMFSFJ/Abteilung4/Pdf-Anlagen/entgeltungleichheit-sinusstudie,property=pdf,bereich=,sprache=de,rwb=true.pdf [bmfsfj.de]

    The second one is in german, but serves to prove the "same work different pay" aspect. You have to imagine the following: In Germany, YOU NEVER GET TO KNOW WHAT YOUR COLLEAGUES MAKE. That's right. You can work alongside a person for thirty years, doing the same work, and be completely in the dark wether or not there is a pay difference between you. Germany has a very rigid culture of secrecy regarding matters of pay. There are no legal obligations or even guidelines for transparency.
    Now look at the numbers of the second study. You can see that even in jobs in which stereotypewise we wouldn't expect a pay gap (example: cook) women earn something like two thirds of what men make. THAT'S the gender bias people are talking about.

    Both studies were created by government agencies, btw. (EU Commission, German Ministry of Family Affairs)

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