Monday, June 02, 2008

Mapping the Gender Math Gap and the Emancipation Gap

Below is important news of a new study on the relationship of social equality to academic performance. When combined with what we know about the effects of stereotype threat in reducing performance by women and minorities, a compelling picture emerges.
Nine years before the 19th Amendment granted American women the right to vote, a committee of Swedish scientists in 1911 awarded a second Nobel Prize to Marie Curie, a French Pole, in recognition of her discovery of the elements radium and polonium. Nine years before Title IX cracked down on gender discrimination in American education, Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to rocket into space, piloting Vostok 6 in 1963. Across generations and cultures, women have reached remarkable levels of scientific and social achievement. Yet five years into the 21st century, the leader of one of the world’s most elite universities, in one of the oldest democracies, opined upon “the unfortunate truth” that women probably are not as mentally equipped for work in math and science as men (Summers 2005). While this would be most unfortunate, is it true? A recent study in the journal Science shows that “the so-called gender gap in math seems to be linked to environmental factors, which means it could be eliminated by education or social programs.” So said Paola Sapienza (Finance), one of the authors, along with Luigi Guiso (Instituto Universitario Europeo) and Ferdinando Monte and Luigi Zingales (both of the University of Chicago). In fact, she continued, “this gap doesn’t exist in countries in which there is greater gender equality.”

Better Grades, Poorer Scores

American girls, on average, earn higher grades than boys in most subjects in high school. According to the College Board, which administers the SAT college entrance exams in the United States, the average SAT-taking girl who graduated from high school in 2007 had a grade point average of 3.40, higher than the average boy’s 3.24. Girls were better represented than boys among the best students, comprising 57 percent of the SAT-takers who graduated among the top 10 percent of the class of 2007. Yet the girls’ average score on the math portion of the SAT was 499 points, compared with 533 for boys, out of a possible 800 (College Board 2007). . . . .

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