Researchers Find That a Family’s Preference For Sons Results in Low Math Scores For Girl Children in Same Family

A group of researchers from the London School of Economics, the University of California Los Angeles, and Northwestern University has found in a new study that a family’s preference towards boys can have a negative affect on their daughters’ math achievement in school.

In order to determine if the family preferred boy children, the researchers used an approach called “fertility stopping rules,” which is when a family continues to have children until they produce a boy. The researchers believed that while this is an imperfect sign of bias, it could be a sign that the family prefers boys.

In the researcher’s first experiment, they analyzed families in Florida who expressed a preference for boys and who had children between 1994 and 2002 and sent them to public schools between 2002 and 2012. Even when accounting for economic and educational levels, girls in boy-favoring families did worse on math tests. Additionally, the wealthier the family and the more educated the mother, the worse the daughter performed on math tests. The boys from these families did not do better or worse in math than boys raised in other families.

In a second experiment, the researchers analyzed data from a 1979 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey that tracked people between ages 14 and 22. The researchers found about 5,000 women in that survey that had at least one child by 2014 and assessed their children’s performance in math. The women in the survey were asked on multiple occasions if they agreed or disagreed with various statements about women being homemakers and caretakers.

The researchers found that the more the women believed a woman’s place was in the home, the lower their daughters scored on math exams. There was no connection between the mother’s attitudes and their sons’ math performance.

In order to combat this phenomena, the researchers belief that both educators and parents need to set an example and undermine the stereotypes of women in STEM.

“When a mom says, ‘I hate math,’ that’s reinforcing the stereotype that women hate math,” said author David Figlio, dean of the School of Education at Northwestern University. “A really good thing to do, if you want your daughters to consider math, is to work extra hard to undermine that stereotype.”

The full study, “Born in the Family: Preferences for Boys and the Gender Gap in Math,” was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. It can be accessed here.

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