Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Gender gap in math: "In more gender-equal societies, girls perform as well as boys in mathematics."

Here's a short paper by Luigi Guiso, Ferdinando Monte, Paola Sapienza, and Luigi Zingales: DIVERSITY: Culture, Gender, and Math (subscription may be required to access the full paper). Its abstract is short, straight and fabulous:

Analysis of PISA results suggests that the gender gap in math scores disappears in countries with a more gender-equal culture.

Here's a key section from the paper:

We find a positive correlation between gender equality and gender gap in mathematics (fig. S5). If Turkey, a low gender-equality country (GGI = 0.59), were characterized by the degree of gender equality manifested in Sweden (GGI = 0.81), our statistical model suggests that the mean score performance in mathematics of girls relative to boys would increase by 23 points, which would eliminate the Turkish gender gap in math (see table, p. 1165). In more gender-equal countries, such as Norway and Sweden, the math gender gap disappears. Similar results are obtained when we use the other indicators of women's roles in society. These results are true not only at the mean level, but also in the tail of the distribution (table S3). In Iceland, the ratio of girls to boys who score above the 99th percentile of the country distribution in math scores is 1.17.

There are many unobserved reasons why countries may differ in a way that affects the math gender gap. Without appropriate controls, we run the risk of capturing a spurious correlation between the unobserved factors and our measures of gender equality. We reran our regression at the student level, inserting a dummy variable for each country, to control for unobserved heterogeneity (table S4). The interaction between gender and GGI index remains statistically significant at the 1% confidence level in a two-tailed t test, which suggests that the correlation between gender equality and girls'math scores is not driven by unobserved heterogeneity. This interaction between gender gap and GGI remains significant even when we insert an interaction between gender and log of GDP per capita, which suggests that the improvement in math scores is not just related to economic development, but to the improvement of the role of women in society.

Over at Women in Science blog, Peggy has a post with related links.

* * *

Bonus link for the day. Jill U. Adams: Nurturing women scientists. Here's an interesting finding from Princeton, and the university's response:

When the Princeton survey team looked beyond the quantitative data, one thing they found was that women were less likely to request extensions of tenure for childbirth than were men. "Now this is really odd, right?" Girgus said. "When we asked people to comment, they said things like: we don't know if it's okay to ask for it, we're afraid we'll be seen as less serious, we're afraid we'll be penalized in the tenure consideration."

Princeton's response? Make the extension of the tenure clock automatic. When a tenure-track faculty member, male or female, brings a new child home, the dean of faculty sends a letter with a new tenure date and a book for the baby, said Girgus.


  1. Anonymous said...

    Sapienza needs to learn some math herself. Finland scores higher on the equality scale than Iceland, yet boys are 12 points ahead in math abilities according to the PISA data. Germany is ranked 7th on the scale, but girls are a whopping 20 points behind.

    And Jordan and Kyrgyzstan are 104th and 70th in the equality ratings, yet there girls do as well in math as boys.

    Strange, ain't it? Also strange that Sapienza didn't pull out the other glaring assumption given by her line of reasoning: Boys being extremely discriminated when it comes to reading.

  2. Anonymous said...

    I dont know about math but in europe it is the girls who walk off with the best results. Primary and secondary education is highly feminised with no male teachers. The boys have practically no role models at this age and are being heavily restrained from developing their skills. Thanks to input from parents they manage to catch up if at all- a big percentage of them dont make it to anywhere.