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July 25, 2008

Girls close math gap

 Fifteen years ago, girls trailed boys by 50 points on SAT math scores. Today, the gap is gone:

But a new study, published in this week's edition of the journal Science, shows the gap has disappeared. Researchers looked at standardized test scores of more than 7 million students, ranging from the second grade to high school junior. Whatever gender differences there once existed between girls and boys in terms of math performance are gone.

"The differences are now trivial," said Janet Hyde, a professor of psychology and women's studies at the University of Wisconsin, who led the research. [ABC]

Science Journalism Tracker elaborates:

The news is that analysis of 7 million test scores by researchers at UC-Berkeley and the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison found dramatic trends in recent decades. In the 70s, boys were ahead at all grade levels. By the 80s the girls kept even well into grade school. Now they’re essentially tied, statistically, all the way through adolescence. One doesn’t see many women’s names in the roll of winners of the Fields Medal (sometimes called the Nobel of math) - no obviously female names at all in a quick search just now. Maybe that’s next. Unclear is how much of the gap’s disappearance is due to boys scoring lower and to girls scoring higher. One difference remained. More boys are in the top one percent - but girls still make up one third of these elite scorers.

Watch the ABC video clip. Science subscribers can read the original paper here.

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What are the SAT Math score averages by gender today?

According to this paper's supplemental material,

In 2007, males scored an average of 533 ± 114 (mean ± SD = 114) on the Mathematics portion of the SAT, compared with an average of 499 ± 111 for girls (S5).

(They cite www.collegeboard.com/prod_downloads/about/news_info/cbsenior/yr2007/national-report.pdf)

They also give good reasons why these SAT scores may be susceptible to sampling artifacts (many more females than males take the SAT).

As a grouchy old geezer that remembers the 70s and 80s, I recall the dearth of encouragement for girls in nearly every endeavour except mommyhood. All the lads were instructed to take the ASVAB or the SAT/ACT. Only those lasses self-motivated took any exams for a future career. Essentially the only test needed was a pregnancy.

But back in the day, a ninth-grade dropout could find a living wage at a local plant. His babymomma could be a SAHM with frugal budgeting and some do-withouts. Now, her income isn't fun money, it's needed.

Amazing how quiet the "if there's a difference, it must be genetic" crowd is about this one. Sort of answers the "nature versus nurture" question, doesn't it? (Of course, the "this proves women are oppressing men" backlash will soon surface. Folks like Rush Lamebrain, er, I mean Limbaugh, know that men are superior to women in stuff like math. If the scores show otherwise, it's obviously due to the "feminization" of American men. Consider test scores in countries where women are forbidden to attend school - the men in those countries aren't "feminized" and their test scores are higher than those of women. Obviously, due to male's genetic superiority as the effect on test scores of killing any women who dare to attend school can be ignored...

This is always an interesting and dangerous topic for a parent of boys. I find comments like those of RepubAnon perilously close to being as ugly as those of Limbaugh.

IMO opinion something is significantly skewed towards girls these days. It might be society, it might be the schools. It might be something in the food supply. Maybe it is genetic and females are just more gifted than males. But far fewer girls drop out of HS, far more go to college and get a degree. Check out the makeup of the top 10 and top 10% of your local public HS. I bet it is skewed at least 60/40 female to male.

If you are the parent of a boy you are much more likely to get a note from school suggesting your child has a learning disability or some related behavioral TLA. I did. You are much more likely to have to deal with discussions about how your child is unable to sit still or remain quiet, and that perhaps he should be medicated.

I am the father of two sons and a daughter. In my admittedly small sample of several circles of friends the girls are much more focused and successful than the boys. I want all my children to have the opportunity to succeed, and I resent any impediments society might impose on my sons to that might benefit my daughter. And it should go without saying that I resent similar impediments on my daughter.

I guess my question is: at what point do we perceive the gender based differences of the past as a problem when reversed? I suspect it will take a very long time for all this to sort out because of effects of the past that linger. Society is going to have to entirely digest the generations that skewed one way before they will recognize that perhaps there are a new set of problems.

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