Are Boys Better at Math than Girls?

In January 2005, Lawrence H. Summers discussed the underrepresentation of women in “tenured positions in science and engineering at top universities.” The president of Harvard University at the time, he hypothesized a disparity in aptitude among males and females. He said that, “when it comes to math and science, men tend to be at the highest end of the ability spectrum.”

Summers’ views sparked huge controversy both on and off of Harvard’s campus. Summers resigned from his position as president the following year, presumably as a result of his comments. Some of his listeners, however, defended him. Sheryl Sandberg called Summers “a true advocate for women” and noted that his talk on the subject was “remarkable” and showed “that he cared enough about women’s careers and their trajectory in the fields of math and science to proactively analyze the issues and talk about what was going wrong.”

Regardless of Summers’ delivery, research confirms his hypotheses. Data suggests that males comprise both the lowest-scoring and highest-scoring poles of test scores. Females fall into the middle of the bell curve.

From as young as 6 months to less than 7 years, there is no difference in mathematical aptitude among males and females. But once adolescence is reached, males begin to outperform females by 30-35 points on the SAT math section. In the classroom, however, females consistently achieve higher scores than males across all grade levels. So, why does this discrepancy in scores exist?

In a 2005 Stanford study discussing testing trends by gender, it was determined that after reminding girls of their gender before taking a test, they performed significantly worse than those whose gender was not verbally recognized beforehand. Notifying or reminding test-takers of their gender or other personal characteristics such as race, economic level, or religion is known as priming. Being “primed” subconsciously reminds test-takers of false stereotypes—that females are not as good at math as males—and results in lower scores.

At SUA, 63.8% of girls sometimes or frequently feel so unconfident in their mathematical abilities that it prevents them from participating. This serves as proof that gender-based stereotypes inhibit learning even when isolated from males, and illustrates the impact that these unfounded ideas often yield.

So, bulldogs, rest assured that you are not at a biological disadvantage to males: you have every capability of surpassing them in the classroom and on the SATs.

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