Monday, July 28, 2008

In Math, Girls = Boys

As has been widely reported, a new study shows that girls and boys perform equally well in math. University of Wisconsin researchers reported on the study in Science magazine. "There just aren't gender differences anymore in math performance," says UW-Madison psychology professor Janet Hyde, the study's leader. "So parents and teachers need to revise their thoughts about this."

I've always thought that the idea that girls aren't as strong in math as boys was something of a self-fulfilling prophecy and thus a very harmful stereotype. When I have done space-related educational outreach events for school groups and girl scout events, I have found girls to be every bit as curious about the universe and its workings as boys. I thought it was unfortunate that few of these smart girls would likely go on to pursue education and careers in science and engineering. I hope this new study will take away any excuse anyone might have for not encouraging girls (and boys) to do what they are good at and what they enjoy.


ZZ said...

Frankly, I think alot of blame for the disparity can be laid on parents. I read an article once that pointed out that if we give boys names like Michael and Jason and Thomas, but we give girls names like Tiffany and Amber and Britney, what message are we sending them? Have you ever met a physician named "Tiffany"?

scottynx said...

The results of the study can be interpreted as consistent with what Larry Summer said: That girls and boys have the same average achievement, but boys have higher variance, leading to an over-abundance of males at the higher (and lower) ends of the achievement spectrum.

It seems that only the wall street journal reported on the "boys higher variance" part of the study with this headline: "Boys' Math Scores Hit Highs and Lows"

Here is Andrew Gelman of Columbia talking about the variance part of the study as well, and the contrasting parts that were emphasized by the WSJ vs the NYT (and virtually all other newspapers).

Also, here is Alex Tabarrok of marginalrevolution talking about how the study vindicates summers:
Summers Vindicated (Again)