Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Study: women not inherently worse at math than men

According to a new study, differences in performance in mathematics between the sexes are entirely attributable to cultural and social factors, and not to any inherent aptitude or greater variability in skill set on either side of the gender binary.

The study appears to disprove two common theories, one which states that men are just better at math than women are, and one which states that while men and women are on average equally good at math, men have more variation in ability and are therefore overrepresented at the top (and bottom).

What the study actually found was that, the more equal the genders were in a given society, the closer their math scores were for high, low, and average achievers. Also, the more equal the genders were, the higher the scores were for everyone - not just women. This suggests that advanced countries with better education systems and more gender equality are doubly advantaged, as they will have not only better-performing women, but also better-performing men.

This study shows that people tend to live up to the expectations that their society sets for them, and those expectations can have unexpected and far-reaching effects. If the same principle applies to other classes of people who are often seen to be under-performers like racial and ethnic minorities - and I expect it does - it's a very good, pragmatic argument for fighting for greater equality for all people.

Posted by Dave at 11:57 AM | Tags: science

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