back to article Economist: girls actually better than boys at maths

An economist in America has published research stating that girls have at least as much innate mathematical ability as boys. Paola Sapienza contends that the fact of girls almost always doing worse in maths exams results mainly from sexual discrimination. "The math gender gap can be eliminated, and it is indeed eliminated in …

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Coat

Considering you would need to be able to count to work out the results

Its not suprising that her results are wrong bieng a women. Women can't count, everyone knows this!

But to be fair, the little darling did give it a good shot!!

Maybe there is an opening somewhere for a PA with a good head for figures?

Mines the coat located very close to the emergency exit

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Anonymous Coward

Shush..

Don't you worry your pretty little head about it.

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Anonymous Coward

eh?

1. You're sure you aren't making is up? Economist named "Sapienza", study called "PISA".

2. If we must mean sex, say gender, and look serious in so doing, why are we still allowed to used loaded terms like "girls" and "boys"?

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Why did her husband let her use his computer anyway

I think he made the chain that attaches her to the cooker too long

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How It Works

http://xkcd.com/385/

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Thumb Up

Good one !

Good article, really, on some a bit polemic subject. Unfortunately, yes, it seems some reasearchers have their facts tainted by whatever pre-made opinion they, had beforehand. Or bad maths.

I personnally believe this unbalance in maths performance (at least in schools) is more complex that just sheer social discrimination.

Hell, France in the early 90s was not Afghanistan, and the postgraduate classes in one of the best maths university of the country (where I studied) were some 1 girl for 50 blokes. No kidding. Can't be explained by a social effect that I have never noticed ...

By the way, this is the explanation (in case, this reasearcher wants to do another study) for the unbalance of failure rates between litterature classes (extremely high) and maths classes (low) amongst boys, at university.

You just can't succeed when sh*gging all the time !

Anon 'cos I don't want anyone to know I was pretty low life at that time :-)

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Silver badge

It's not twaddle, it's utter twaddle

So if boys do better it's sexual discrimination but if girls do better it's because they are better. I suggest that if she starts to lose the plot amongst her followers then she should take a leaf out of Hilary Clintons book and start crying. At least she'll get a bit of sympathy.

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Anonymous Coward

Im suprised she can stand up,

let alown write anything. She clearly has a HUGE chip on her sholder.

Perhaps she could explain why Girls outdo boys in Languages?

There may be gender bias to it, but I think it is far more complex that simple "teachers are all sexist". It makes me wonder how she got funding.

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Anonymous Coward

Women are generally not geeky

With my pint in my hand leaning up against the bar - I reckon girls and boys have the same potential for being good at maths, it is just that girls/females do not have the same detail obsession of boys - or once they see it they are put off. Put another way, maths/sciences are not seen as interesting or fashionable and this bothers most girls. I believe this is why there are fewer female scientists, engineers etc. and working as an engineer, I wish the numbers would even out....

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What about the culture effect?

I strongly suspect that "equality" is defined differently depending on where you are in the world. There will always be some stuff men can do that women can't, and vica-versa. The balance is found in what is culturally acceptable in the location in question.

I personally get royally pissed off every time I see an advert for a women only car insurer, as they are discriminating against me on the basis of my gender, not on my 7 year without claim proven driving ability. But it's culturally acceptable, so it happens, and I couldn't and wouldn't try and change that.

Bottom line? People is people. The statistics will never show a fifty-fifty split either way, so let's stop wasting time on studies like this one and do stuff that really matters.

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Unbalanced folk in the USA?

The United States only comes 31st for gender balance. So that explains why she has a poor grasp of mathematics. So, that means her figures are inaccurate. So that means it's irrelevant that the United States is so unbalanced. So . . . So . . .So . . . {poster vanishes into a puff of logic}

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Paris Hilton

A step too far

We should never have given them the vote. My Grandad said it would all end in tears...

Paris - she knows her place

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Depends what type of mathematics you look at.

Girls tend to do better at pure maths while boys tend to do better at applied maths.

Which explains why she's having so much trouble with the statistics.

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Anonymous Coward

<no title>

If one gender seems to do better than the other, isn't that suggestive that there wasn't 'a level playing field' anyway ? I sometimes get the impression that unless the girls do umpteen times better than the boys, then someone will still claim they were disadvantaged.

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Anonymous Coward

Physics vs economics

Strange how physicists (mostly blokes I guess) can look for years for a Higgs boson and not find one. But when a woman economist looks at figures she sees a heffalump right away. This is very odd, as both activities would seem to be equally good means of extracting research funds.

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It all depends....

Amazingly articles like this report research which appears to be totally innocent of very serious work that has been done on the subject of gender in mathematics education.

Many years ago Hilary Shuard noted that if you looked at what British children were able to do between (say) 9 and 14, girls and boys were able to do well different things. There appeared (at the time) to be a fast shift between girls' mathematical ability relative to boys between primary and secondary school, but on examination this turned out to be a change in the kinds of tasks that were given to the children: girls being better at computation tasks (like long multiplication) and boys better at tasks such as equation solving.

So: that tells us that "mathematical ability" is rather more complicated. In the British environment, computation is what is taught at primary level and the teaching is massively female dominated. That may be enough to explain the gender bias in mathematical skill noted.

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Paris Hilton

Gender separation trumps gender equality

There's actually a very simple explanation for these odd-sounding results which Ms. Sapienza could have learned by asking any competent educationalist or social scientist because it's been known for years:

If you teach girls separately from boys, they perform dramatically better, especially in subjects where "traditionally" boys are expected to be stronger, such as maths and hard sciences. Put girls and boys together and, especially when adolescence hits, girls' performance in those subjects falls off a cliff. The best explanation is the massive cultural and peer pressure to be "attractive" to boys, and that starts with not humiliating them in maths tests. Oh, and what do certain gender-unequal Islamic countries have in common? Oh yeah: strict segregation of the sexes.

A competent economist would have calculated exactly how much of the performance difference is accounted for by separate schools, how much by poverty (another known big influence on girls' education), and how much by the Equality Index. After all, Strength of Correlation is one of the things economists and social scientists are supposed to be really good at!

Of course, it's hard to see the obvious answers with such a huge preconception blocking your view. And she also probably wouldn't have gotten a paper published in Science that way...

Paris, because even she could have worked this out.

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Of course, it might of helped

if they'd taken into account the _types_ of gender discrimination present in each country, rather than using an overall rating.

Then of course, that would be expecting an economist to actually make the effort to understand and analyse sociological data.

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Paris Hilton

hmmm

Doesn't this just say that the GGC isn't a very good measurement in this case? A lot of Muslim countries that the west view as heavily discriminatory against women have, for example, allowed women to go to university far longer than we have.

Paris, because someone should teach her a lesson.

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@Gender separation trumps gender equality

This actually helps boys too. Here in the US (31 on that index) the vast, vast majority of students with diagnosed "learning disorders" are male, the majority of high school drop outs are male and the majority of college students are female.

These problems magically go away in schools with segregated classes, even if they're still mixed at break time.

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Coat

Equality isn't all it's cracked up to be

I'm a lady girl, and I quite like men holding doors open for me, paying for meals, and generally treating me nicer than they treat their male friends. Wouldn't necessarily want to be 'equal'. Although I can down a pint like the best of them, and I do have a maths degree... That's the best thing about being a girl. You can play with dolls and cars. You can wear short skirts or baggy jeans. You can have the best of everything. Women will never be equal cos we're better :-D

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Boffin

Fettle of the sexes

As an undergraduate, I remember physics having hardly any women, mathematics being of a 50/50 split, and biology a strictly ladies-only discipline. These disparities continued to docterate level.

Oh, how I wish I'd become a biologist.

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Coat

Yes but can she cook?

<....> sexist joke redacted

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Ed

More statistically insignificant data

When I was in elementary school, the top performers during math were all girls, except when test time came around - during tests, I ranked up there with the girls, the only boy able to compete. (I didn't do my homework.)

When I was in junior high, the top performers in math were mostly girls, with a few boys in the mix. Come test time, I dominated. (I still didn't do my homework.)

When I was in high school, I was in honors math, and just being in my math class indicated high math skills. 2/3 of the class was male, 1/3 female. The girl who cared not at all for fashion was top, followed closely by the boy who was eventually valedictorian, then the school Feminist[1], followed by me (did homework, but bigger pond -> smaller fish.)

When I was in college, I was in double-honors math, and just being in my freshman math class was fairly ridiculous. Sixteen boys, two women. Neither woman cared at all for fashion, and neither woman admitted outside of our class that she was in double-honors calculus: one claimed she was in regular calculus, the other that she wasn't taking a math class (when pressed, she admitted, yes, she was in a math class, but it was only pre-calc, so it didn't really count.)

[1] My high school had many feminists, as it was rather large, but only one Feminist.

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Anonymous Coward

sex = gender ???

Sex and gender are not the same thing.

Sex represents male/female (physical aspects) while gender represents the masculine/feminine traits.

State-side, changes in teaching methods have helped girls reach a parity with boys, but with boys doing worse. It would seem that instead of teaching just one method, picking the best of both methods would be preferred. Bringing girls up is one thing, but allowing boys to falter makes no sense, especially when it's tied to the teaching method.

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Paris Hilton

why do researchers try to simplify everything...

Surely there are a LOT more factors to mathematical ability than gender equality. In some countries it is simply not fashionable for boys to be clever, and girls just try harder.

When I were at school, girls scored higher where it was possible to copy verbatim without any real thought, because the boys tried to understand the puzzle and didn't necessarily get the implementation right first time. In later years the boys had learned from their mistakes and coped with the harder problems.

Other cultural factors play a part too, which result in further subsections of the populace. Then there is probably an element of genetics playing a part too, and evolution from male dominated tasks which involved catching food or protection of the clan requiring the advancement of engineering techniques.

Paris, because she understands that not everything is a simple as it seems

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Sam

God give me strength

AC who went to UNI.."litterature" is spelt "literature".

Francis Davey.."girls and boys were able to do well different things." Me speaky English, you notty...

Jamie Kitson..."A lot of Muslim countries that the west view as heavily discriminatory against women have, for example, allowed women to go to university far longer than we have."...yes, but they also stone them and occasionally set them on fire, when they are not beating or otherwise abusing them.

Phil Hare..."I personally get royally pissed off every time I see an advert for a women only car insurer, as they are discriminating against me on the basis of my gender, not on my 7 year without claim proven driving ability."...That's because they have a poorer spatial awareness, and lose control at only 5MPH in tescos car park, so the damage, and therefore the claim, and cost of damage is less.

HHHMMPHHH!

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Next up: Girls and boys are different!

protestations by the gender confused aside, scientists release the shocking discovery of biological, structural and psychological differences between the sexes!

Reactions to the news were mixed, with girls crying about the results and boys getting angry and threatening violence. However, after settling down and doing research for themselves about "outies" and "innies" everyone pretty much settled down and weren't interested in arguing for awhile.

Viva la differance!

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Dead Vulture

discrimination against men is so ubiquitous it is invisible to us

So are they going to look at how men are discriminated in with language, literature, and history courses?

Or do these "economists" feel men are innately inferior?

The discrimination in our culture against men is so ubiquitous, it is virtually invisible to members of our culture.

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sex is not a synonym for gender

Gender is for grammar and dead things, like the gender of a noun in German, or the gender of an electrical connector.

Sex is biological.

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lies, damn lies and statistics...

See title

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Paris Hilton

Women will never be equal cos we're better :-D

Aren't us men nice to let you do that!

:-P

Women may be better, but men are nicer.

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Anonymous Coward

"women do no work'

"A value of zero GGI indicates "inequality" (males totally dominating; women do no work"

So in a totally male chauvinist society, with a GGI of 0, women just sit around on their arses all day, while men do the shopping, the laundry, the cleaning, the child minding and look after their elderly in-laws as well?

That probably explains why there aren't any countries with a score of 0.

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De

Equal?

"QED, then. In the northern-Euro countries, where the human race is most nearly approaching gender equality - though not by any means there yet - girls are already outstripping boys at maths, as they often do in non-mathematical subjects. In the gender-equal society of the future, girls really could be expected to trounce the chaps on all suits. Men just aren't as intelligent as women."

Seems like those for gender equality dont even belive in gender equality........

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Stop

Re: Women are generally not geeky

"it is just that girls/females do not have the same detail obsession of boys"

You've never seen my wife buying shoes

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Re: Gender separation trumps gender equality

>>> If you teach girls separately from boys, they perform dramatically better, especially in subjects where "traditionally" boys are expected to be stronger, such as maths and hard sciences. Put girls and boys together and, especially when adolescence hits, girls' performance in those subjects falls off a cliff. The best explanation is the massive cultural and peer pressure

Or the biological pressure that draws us together no matter what society we live in and was already in place when "school" amounted to being taught not to run in front of a mammoth. Not to mention that from grade 8 and up there are girls who use a display of their "pressuring" femininity for a better grade.

>>> to be "attractive" to boys, and that starts with not humiliating them in maths tests.

On the contrary, girls don't wait for a math test to humiliate the boys in their class; they already show those boys for how immature and unequal they consider them when only going out with boys from higher grades.

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Missed career

Looks like Mrs. Sapienza chose the wrong job, should have gone for politics or creative accounting.

I am also dimayed about the search for gender equality, equal does not translate into happy. Give everybody a chance, but don't expect everybody to strive for the same career.

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Ian

@ Steve

"Girls tend to do better at pure maths while boys tend to do better at applied maths.

Which explains why she's having so much trouble with the statistics."

Err.. statistics is a branch of pure math :p

I think there's some confusion though, applied math is a bit of a misnomer really, I mean, nearly all math is applied, even things like encryption are just applied number theory essentially.

I'm not convinced either that girls do better at pure math whilst boys do better at mechanics (which is presumably what you're referring to). Perhaps I'm a man with too much of a girly side but certainly I do superbly when it comes to things such as number theory, set theory, group theory, combinatorics but I really dislike mathematical modelling of real systems (i.e. mechanics etc.).

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Studies of studies are always dangerous

In any statistical study of statisical studies, 5% of the subsidiary studies will lie outside the 95% confidence level. That means that of the more than 100 countries studied here, a number of the countries' figures are going to be just plain flat out wrong. So seizing on a particular country, eg Iceland, to demonstrate something is highly dangerous. The subsidiary results you think are the most interesting could well be those where the numbers are simply not true.

Also, these sorts of studies are often riddled with the individual economist's own biases, and especially their overwhelming desire (true of most scientists in general) to see their name on published artlcles. On a subject like this one, I'll only be convinced one way or the other once scientists have figured out which bit of the brain is responsible for mathematical proficiency, and then studied an unbiased sample of 100's (at least) of brains to see what those people had in that part of their brain.

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Heart

I for one

welcome our new moderatrices.

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So????

I know a bunch of girls who are very good at math --- the missus, her sisters and the daughter for a start. I also know a bunch that are clueless. It says nothing.

The real difference between the genders -- as anyone who's in education will tell you -- is that the width of the ability bell-curve is narrower for girls. The median ability's the same but you get fewer very bright (and very dumb) women than men. The other difference, and the big one for people who work in schools, is that a lot of girls aren't motivated to do 'hard' subjects; the missus has spent practically her entire career encouraging girls to do math and physics and you've got about the same level of interest now as thirty years ago. (She prefers to work in all-girls academic schools so can the discrimination stuff, please. The fact is girls just love law and stuff where their innate articulate skills can be fully deployed -- and they earn far more money than doing boring stuff in a lab.)

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To you, one word only: I love you!!!

Although I'm sure zapie - something is right. She is an economist after all.

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Males dominate AND do all the work

A value of zero GGI indicates "inequality" (males totally dominating; women do no work, earn no money, don't appear at all in politics etc). A GGI of 1 equals "equality" (women just the same as men in these areas).

?? What about all those cultures where men "dominate" but women do all the work ??

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Innate, my arse

‘Innate’ maths ability is essentially the sum of mathematical skills that those untouched tribes people in the Amazon have. They won’t have a concept of zero, probably can’t multiply, and may well not be able to count over a few dozen. The maths ability you and I have (and the ability being measured by this team) is about as far from innate as it is possible to be, and is the product of a decade or more of strict and intensive training.

So, what this team has actually done is repackage information we already knew, namely that girls are better at boys when it comes to passing Western style maths exams when educated by a Western education system. In non-Western systems, boys are better than girls. There are two possible reasons for this; the first is that girls are better at maths than boys, and that the link between sexism in society and girl’s results proves this. The second is that the two factors are actually a correlation rather than cause and effect, and that societies that have greater equality of the sexes also tend to have the type of school education system that favours girls over boys.

The trick is distinguishing between the two. Studies of the way boys and girls learn support the latter idea. Boys generally like competitive, fun, hands-on lessons where experimenting and playing are more important than getting grades, whilst girls tend to do better with high-pressured, but less competitive environment where learning is more passive, more highly structured and requires dedication and conscientiousness. However, when we get to university the culture of education flips. Suddenly macho posturing, risk taking and hierarchical rather than co-operative behaviour are desirable, and so boys race ahead of girls.

This is really a reflection of the society our politicians want. The bulk of learning should be like the bulk of the population it is designed for: passive, obedient and attentive, soaking up lessons and being hand-fed ideas without challenging them. However, the top end of society should be like stereotypically male University maths students: thrusting, competitive, egotistic, arrogant, challenging, and striving to screw over the competition. Following this model, we should expect women to dominate the majority mainstream, with a small number of men dominating the top echelons… which is pretty much where society is headed.

The real issue is to work out how much of this detail is down to social training and how much is down to evolved behavioural patterns. If girls are better in our current school system because they are predestined to be mature and conscientious, and vice versa for University, then you could say that girls have an innate ability for maths at school, whilst boys have an innate ability for maths at Uni. Then maths ability does depend on society – but depends on the type of culture society deliberately chooses rather than as an unplanned consequence of a traditionally paternalistic society.

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Strangely...

it isn't a mathematician saying this. As a mathematician, I am not saying this...

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Alert

Spelling?

After reading some of the comments here, looks like we men are lagging behind in spelling too, or at the very least proof-reading!

What a load of old toss! What about environmental factors too? Quite a few of our young gentlemen in today's society, from certain demographic groups, brainwashed by greedy ad-men to grow up, drink, play GTA and stab and shoot each other, it's hardly surprising we are lagging behind in academia is it? Doesn't take a degree from the University of Bogus-Studies and a grant from the Research Institute of Cods-Wallop to work that out, does it!

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Boffin

Sneeze Plots

I did get curious enough to look at the study. Looks like they worked hard to obfuscate their correlations of gender equality and math performance - not an easy thing if you only compare two observables. But eventually they get to beautiful sneeze plots showing the correlation between equality and math/reading performance, evenly distributed clots filling the graph. Give or take the odd outlier point and the claimed correlation seems plausible or vanishes in the unhealthy depth of randomness.

Thumbs up for getting the topic up on the pages of Science and into the general press, but thumbs down for a truly nasty piece of work.

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Anonymous Coward

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

I am a male with a degree in mathematics and statistics. I suspect Ms Sapienza has a better understanding of statistics than you, Lewis, or any of the predominantly (exclusively?) male posters so far.

I can't access the original paper, and the summaries do not go into detail on statistical methods, but there are simple (and also not so simple) methods that are appropriate for this data.

I'll pick out two criticisms from your article, Lewis. Firstly, it's entirely appropriate to leave in data which did not achieve statistical significance for individual countries. Just because the difference between males and females is not statistically significant doesn't mean that the data isn't valid.

Secondly, you complain about those countries which appear to contradict the conclusion of the paper. You cite Finland and Qatar amongst others. Of course there will be outliers from the data - but the whole point of statistics is to identify the underlying correlation, and these outliers do not negate the conclusion.

However, the fact that several countries do not fit the general pattern suggests a more justified criticism; that the statistical method may not have adequately examined confounding factors. For example equality of mathematical achievement might be better correlated with wealth than with sexual equality. Taking account of the effect of wealth might eliminate the correlation with sexual equality.

If you really want to criticise the paper, and there may well be much to criticise, we need to know much more about the statistical methods.

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There is sexual bias in the way some subjects learned

If you look at the science / mathematical subjects with the exception of biology there is indeed a sexual bias and it is in the way the concepts are presented and linked.

I believe that this is the case as the vast majority of the underlying concepts were recorded by men from their way of thinking.

Woman do link information together differently and where this can be seen is in the subject of biology. For those people who have studied all the sciences I think they would agree that the mind set for biology is very different to that of the other sciences, this I believe is down to the fact that women have historically been more involved with this subject and hence their way of thinking has been adopted as the norm.

This would suggest a review of how science is presented to the student so as to better match the way the student's brain works, rather than bickering about whos best we should make the most of what we have. By our history of excluding the female view point we may have made life very difficult for ourselves where the "male" way doesnt work

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As an after thought wasn't it Florence Nightingale who first argued successfully with statistics?

http://www.florence-nightingale.co.uk/small.htm

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