Gender Similarities Characterize Math Performance

Janet Hyde, Sara Lindberg, Marcia Linn, Amy Ellis, Caroline Williams
National Science Foundation
July 2008

That boys are the math whizzes and girls suffer acute equation phobia (hence Barbie: "Math class is tough!") is a common stereotype. It's fueled by evidence that shows that high-school girls take fewer math and science courses than boys, a difference that also serves to explain why boys have historically performed better on standardized math tests in high school. But new findings from a report out of the Universities of Wisconsin and California (Berkeley) are doing their part (along with the other, similar findings that preceded them) to undermine the gender typecasting. Researchers studied achievement data from over 7 million students and found that, for grades 2 to 11, there's no longer a difference between the math performance of boys and girls. Females are still underrepresented in the highest levels of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) careers, though. Researchers aren't clear exactly why, but they point to the higher variability of boys' scores. For instance, among white eleventh graders in one state studied, the 99th percentile (the very top of the academic curve) contained twice as many boys as girls. So even though average scores are similar between the genders, boys appear to outnumber girls in the ranks of the highest scorers, which may leave them better prepared for high-level math courses in college. Find the short report here (and read it for a fee).

Amber M. Northern, Ph.D.
Amber M. Northern, Ph.D. is the Senior Vice President for Research at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.