A Simple Explanation for the Gender Gap in High-Level Mathematics

Recent research has shown that girls now do as well as boys in mathematics in elementary and secondary school. Yet women are vastly underrepresented in advanced mathematics.

A new study by scholars at the Paris School of Economics and Paris Dauphine University finds that the reason for the lower participation rate of women in high-level mathematics may be rather simple: They are better at reading and verbal tasks than they are at mathematics and outperform men in these areas.

The research examined data on more than 300,000 high school students in 64 countries. The students’ academic performance on verbal and mathematical tests were compared with the students’ anticipated career paths. From a very young age, girls are exposed to stereotypes about women in STEM fields and this may encourage girls to steer toward careers in non-STEM disciplines, despite the fact that they perform as well as boys in these fields in school. The authors conclude that girls relative advantage in verbal skills could account for 80 percent of the gender gap in favor of men in mathematical fields.

The full study, “Girls’ Comparative Advantage in Reading Can Largely Explain the Gender Gap in Math-Related Fields,” was published on the website of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. it may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/StudySTEM Fields

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