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When It Comes to Math, Females Are as Smart as Males

Study of nearly 1.3 million students finds no difference in abilities

TUESDAY, Oct. 12, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Males and females have equal math skills, a new report confirms.

Researchers reviewed 242 studies published between 1990 and 2007 that assessed the math skills of nearly 1.3 million people from grade school to college and beyond. They also examined the findings of several large, long-term scientific studies.

Both analyses showed a "meaningless" difference in math skills between males and females. The findings were published in the Oct. 11 online edition of the journal Psychological Bulletin.

While social scientists agree that both genders have equal math abilities, many parents and teachers still believe boys are better at math than girls. This can lead them to guide girls away from careers in math-heavy sciences or engineering, said the study's chief author Janet Hyde, a professor of psychology and women's studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"Parents and teachers continue to hold stereotypes that boys are better in math, and that can have a tremendous impact on individual girls who are told to stay away from engineering or the physical sciences because 'girls can't do math,'" Hyde said in a university news release.

It's known that stereotypes affect academic performance, she added.

"There is lots of evidence that what we call 'stereotype threat' can hold women back in math. If, before a test, you imply that the women should expect to do a little worse than the men, that hurts performance. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy," Hyde said.

"Parents and teachers give little implicit messages about how good they expect kids to be at different subjects and that powerfully affects their self-concept or ability. When you are deciding about a major in physics, this can become a huge factor," she added.

The study findings reinforce a recent study that ranked gender last among nine factors -- including parental education, family income and school effectiveness -- in influencing the math performance of 10-year-old students.

Hyde noted that women have made big advances in technical fields, and half of medical school students are female, as are 48 percent of math majors in college. "If women can't do math, how are they getting these majors?" she asked.

More information

The National Network for Child Care has more about girls, science and math.

SOURCE: University of Wisconsin-Madison, news release, Oct. 11, 2010
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