Women in Math: Recent Research

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image source: IGNACIOLEO

There have been several studies in the literature in the past few weeks about women in math.

I recently posted about the BYU study that found that while boys tend to do better in the first round of math competitions, girls do just as well or better than the boys in subsequent rounds. But there are a few other studies worth mentioning.

IU study: Feelings of power can diffuse effects of negative stereotypes: In this study, researchers used several tools to make women feel high, low, or neutral in power, and then gave these groups a math exam with instructions that either did or did not reinforce the stereotype that women are not good at math. They found that those who felt high in power performed better in math than those in both the low power and control group, despite stereotype reinforcing instructions.

Could Playing ‘Boys’ Games Help Girls in Science and Math? In this review of 12 studies, researchers found that in general men do better at spatial tasks than women. However, there was more variation found within each gender than between genders. Spatial ability seemed to be more associated with gender-identification than with biological gender. The authors suggest that, because spatial ability is refined through play and recreational activities, girls could improve spatial abilities through participating in activities that are stereotypically considered masculine.

More Career Options May Explain Why Fewer Women Pursue Jobs in Math and Science: In this study, researchers examined test scores and conducted surveys with 1,490 college-bound US students. The students were surveyed in 12th grade and again at 33 years old. The researchers found that among students with high math abilities, those who also had high verbal abilities, a group that contained more women than men, were less likely to have chosen a career in math and science than those with moderate verbal abilities. The authors suggest that having both high math and verbal abilities means having more career options, and that this may partly explain why fewer women enter these fields. “Because they’re good at both, they can consider a wide range of occupations.”

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