Boys Are Better (and Worse) at Math Than Girls

Boys Are Better (and Worse) at Math Than Girls July 30, 2008

Girls and boys have roughly the same average scores on state math tests, but boys more often excelled or failed, researchers reported.

The fresh research adds to the debate about gender difference in aptitude for mathematics, including efforts to explain the relative scarcity of women among professors of science, math and engineering.

In the 1970s and 1980s, studies regularly found that high- school boys tended to outperform girls. But a number of recent studies have found little difference.

The latest study, in this week’s journal Science, examined scores from seven million students who took statewide mathematics tests from grades two through 11 in 10 states between 2005 and 2007.

The researchers, from the University of Wisconsin and the University of California, Berkeley, didn’t find a significant overall difference between girls’ and boys’ scores. But the study also found that boys’ scores were more variable than those of girls. More boys scored extremely well — or extremely poorly — than girls, who were more likely to earn scores closer to the average for all students.

More. Many newspapers have been strangely selective in reporting this study. Upon reflection, though, perhaps this is not so strange.

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  • Affirmative Action for males is becoming quite common these days, as females handily outperform them. Take that, Aristotle, Augustine & Aquinas.

  • blackadderiv

    I’m not aware of any place that has affirmative action for men.

  • blackadderiv

    Nor is it clear how females are handily outperforming males.

  • David Nickol

    I don’t know that there is ironclad proof of any of this, since it’s difficult to weed out cultural factors, and it gets so emotionally charged, any findings are vigorously challenged.

    It appears to be the case that autism is much more common in boys than girls, and savant syndrome even more so. This indicates (to me, anyway) that there are differences between male and female brains.

    I loved Daniel Tammet’s book Born on a Blue Day. And Temple Grandin (autistic, but not a savant) is a hero of mine.

  • Morning’s Minion

    I thought the conventional wisdom was that girls did better in sexually-segregated schools, which is why I favor that model.

  • Perhaps with so-called “hard” supposedly male subjects and careers such as maths, physics, engineering and so on, perhaps what we are dealing with here is not a supposed aptitude as such, but issues associated with the culture that surrounds how such subjects are taught, and the professional culture of those careers that arise out of them, which are often not conducive to women advancing, which can then in turn create a vicious circle.

    As with all of these things, one needs to be very careful, and be prepared to turn to the anthropologists for a global corrective, and to appreciate what is truly innate and what is merely cultural. Judgements as to what is truly innate to a particular gender must be prepared to be tested against all potentila counterarguments in space and time.

    As for sexually segregated schools, speaking from the other side of the pond, I believe that girls do better when we boys are not around to mess things up, but we boys sometimes suffer from their positive presence: the high flyers will always fly high, but without a calming feminine presence, the lower flyers tend to let loose their more negative masculine tendencies rather more than they would if there were girls around! In any case, such differences, advantages/disadvantages tend to disappear after 16. Girls tend to do better than boys in GCSEs, perhaps due to their hitting puberty earlier, but by VI Form such distinctions generally disappear, and A-Level performance is more or less unrelated to gender. I was in an all-boys grammar school that admitted girls in the VI From, but unfortunately after my GCSEs moved and ended up in one that didn’t admit girls, which was a right royal disgrace: the only girls I bumped into most fo the time in VI Form were other peoples girlfriends at parties! What made it worse was that the girls grammar was on the other side of the mutually shared playing field, but neither school were interested in merging the VI Forms!

    Sorry for the digression! Can I just, in parting recommend a fascinating little book, entitled “Pythagoras’ Trousers: God, Physics, & Gender” by one Margaret Wertheim. I wouldn’t necessarily endorse everything it has to say, but when I read it about eight or nine years ago, it certainly made me think.