Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

July 22, 2009


Notices of the American Mathematical Society - One commonly held belief to explain the extreme scarcity of females who excel at the highest level in mathematics is that women simply lack sufficient aptitude for the field. The data presented here neither prove nor disprove whether the frequency of occurrence of people with profound intrinsic aptitude for mathematics differs between women and men. What they do indicate, however, is that this scarcity is due, in significant part, to changeable factors that vary with time, country, and ethnic group. First and foremost, some countries identify and nurture females with very high ability in mathematics at a much higher frequency than do others. . . A strong correlation also exists between the magnitude of measured gender difference in mathematics performance by eighth and tenth graders in a country and other measures of gender stratification such as participation in the labor force and politics.

Second, girls perform as well if not better than boys in mathematics throughout elementary school; it is during the middle school years, an age when children begin to feel pressure to conform to peer and societal expectations, that they start to lose interest and fall behind in most, but not all countries.

In some of the most gender-equal cultures, a gender gap is not observed in mathematics among fifteen-year-old students on the Program for International Student Assessment, not only with respect to median score, but also in the ratio of girls to boys performing above the ninety-fifth and ninety-ninth percentiles.

Third, Asian girls and white girls who are immigrants from Eastern Europe are well represented among the very top students identified in the extremely difficult mathematics competitions; it is only USA-born white and historically underrepresented minority girls who are underrepresented, underrepresented by almost two orders-of magnitude relative to Asian girls educated in the same school systems.

Fourth, the scarcity of females is much less pronounced in the sciences and engineering, fields that depend upon a solid understanding of mathematics. Their percentages in these . . . fields have been steadily increasing post-Title IX. . .

In summary, some Eastern European and Asian countries frequently produce girls with profound ability in mathematical problem solving; most other countries, including the USA, do not. Children, including girls, of immigrants to the USA and Canada from some of the countries that excel in the IMO are overrepresented among students identified as profoundly gifted in mathematics; USA-born girls from all other ethnic/racial backgrounds, including white, are very highly underrepresented.


Anonymous stay out of their way and they'll do fine said...

My esteemed younger daughter who was an Anthropology/Black studies major @ Grinnell got a fucking A in trig and given her mom is the smartest person I know, you don't have to tell me girls are smart. My eldest daughter learned the alphabet on her second birthday with no prodding out of intellectual curiousity.

July 22, 2009 9:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a strong anti-intellectual bias in US public schools. This is as much a result of adult behavior towards clever children as of peer pressure.

July 23, 2009 1:36 AM  
Blogger Aaron Matthews said...

Does anyone else find it odd that a) we worry about too many males in STEM subjects, but overlook over all gap and b) that we spend millions fixing an overall 1.2 grade level gender gap in math but do nothing to fix 2.3 grade level gender gap in reading?

Colleges and universities spend millions trying to lure girls into STEM subjects, but at best ignore the gender gap in social majors such as education and social work. At many schools, they allow a hostile environment to emanate from women's centers and women's study departments.

The message most boys are receiving from colleges is that unless they can play basketball or football, they aren't needed and not really wanted.

July 23, 2009 12:10 PM  

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