Rating (out of five): ΔΔΔ

Do we all know the stereotype that females are not as capable at math as males? Folks, that old stereotype has just been debunked.

Gender Differences in Mathematics: An Integrative Psychological Approach, edited by Gallagher and Kaufman, essentially states that there are no real differences in mathematical ability. Beware, though, that this is not a book that gets the heart pumping. Not to scare people off from reading it but the book is a fairly dry read.

The book has a variety of ideas on differences in mathematical ability as it relates to gender. These ideas are presented in a conglomeration of essays written by academics and researchers, all of whom have their own personal experiences and biases. Often times the research essays disclosed that females overall ended up with higher grades in mathematics classes than males. However, when taking higher level mathematical ability tests, females tended to end up with lower scores on average than males.

This finding prompted many in the book to discuss reasons for this tendency. There was a range of explanations but most were vague or non-conclusive. One explanation was that as young children males are encouraged to play with blocks. This encouragement has the end result of leading to increased spatial ability. High spatial ability is correlated with doing well with certain types of math, and high spatial ability is especially conducive to success on mathematical ability tests such as the SAT.

This and other explanations for the test score differences as well as class grade difference raise questions about the impact of biology versus socialization on academic performance. If there are differences in mathematical ability how do they manifest and why? Are we as a society more responsible or are physical factors responsible? In some cases it was concluded that societal factors are more to blame and that there are no inherent factors outside of intelligence that lead to differences in mathematical ability.

Gender Differences In Mathematics also raises questions about the focus many research studies take. Why are we asking why males are outperforming females on the mathematical portion of SAT? Ultimately in one of the many essays the authors pondered that studies are asking questions that focus on the ways that males are outperforming females in mathematical areas, but the studies do not tend to focus on the ways that females are outperforming males. This leads back to the old and engrained stereotype that females are not as good at math and that researchers themselves carry that stereotype within them. The researchers have their own personal agendas. Not only the researchers have agendas but also the publishers of the studies.

While I could say more I leave it to you as readers to seek out your own conclusions. The book is worth a shot if you are interested in how child education is impacted by gender stereotypes. It is also worth reading if you are someone in a career that is involved with mathematics. I especially encourage educators to read this book and question the ways in which they approach their students based on gender. Peoples’ well-being depends on it.

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