For years, studies and researchers have pointed to a supposed gender gap with regard to math performance, pointing to females as the fairer sex. But a University of Wisconsin-Madison study is debunking that as a myth, instead pointing to social and cultural factors as the reason for any gender discrepancies.

The researchers looked at data from 86 countries to test the hypothesis that “males diverge more from the mean at both ends of the spectrum and, hence, are more represented in the highest-performing sector.” But what the study revealed was “greater male variation in math achievement is not present in some countries and is mostly due to boys with low scores in some other countries, indicating that it relates much more to culture than to biology.”

“People have looked at international data sets for many years,” said senior author Janet Mertz. “What has changed is that many more non-Western countries are now participating in these studies, enabling much better cross-cultural analysis.”

They also proved that gender inequality does in fact negatively impact girls’ math performance in Muslim countries, going against a theory by “Feakonomics” economist Steven Levitt.

“The girls living in some Middle Eastern countries, such as Bahrain and Oman, had, in fact, not scored very well, but their boys had scored even worse, a result found to be unrelated to either Muslim culture or schooling in single-gender classrooms,” said study author Jonathan Kane. “We found that boys — as well as girls — tend to do better in math when raised in countries where females have better equality, and that’s new and important. It makes sense that when women are well-educated and earn a good income, the math scores of their children of both genders benefit.”

previous study found that some women distance themselves from “masculine” subjects like math or science as a way to be considered romantically desirable.

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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