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Maths and gender

Research summary & links to further information about maths and gender.


The link between maths ability and gender is an area that has been widely studied. Firstly, it’s important to say that there is no evidence of any biological difference between males and females in maths ability.

But research has suggested that attitudinal differences and cultural factors are important in relation to maths and gender. They play a part in girls and women having higher levels of maths anxiety, lower achievement in school maths and lower representation in maths-related careers.

In the UK, boys tend to outperform girls in school maths and men make up a far higher percentage of those working in STEM careers (science, technology, engineering & maths). But this is not the case in all countries. This is a cultural rather than biology-influenced difference.

The OECD gathers data from 65 countries around the world and has found that boys outperform girls in maths in only around half of the countries. Performance differences are found to be much bigger within each gender rather than between the genders. It’s often the case that more boys than girls are found among the lowest-performing students as well as amongst the highest.

Various studies have shown the way in which attitudes and stereotypes affect girls’ and boys’ performance in maths at school. The ‘stereotype threat’ suggests that if girls are exposed to negative stereotypes about gender and maths then this affects their performance, confidence and ongoing career choices. The attitudes of teachers and parents have been shown to have an effect, and girls have been shown to have higher levels of maths anxiety and to express more negative attitudes towards maths (see links below).

Interestingly, in countries with a more gender-equal culture, the gender gap in maths scores disappears.


Links to more information on maths and gender

Read more about the OECD’s findings here: https://www.oecd.org/pisa/keyfindings/pisa-2012-results-overview.pdf

A brief summary of some of the evidence around gender differences in maths: https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2013/03/07/the-truth-about-gender-and-math/

An exploration of the effect that primary school teachers’ gender biases have on boys’ and girls’ achievement in school: https://www.nber.org/papers/w20909

This study looks at attitudes towards maths and shows that even where girls and boys had received similar grades in maths, girls reported significantly less enjoyment and pride than boys, and more anxiety, hopelessness and shame: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF03173468

This report shows that mothers who believe in gender stereotypes about maths negatively affect their daughters’ performance in maths: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51482461_Girls'_Math_Performance_Under_Stereotype_Threat_The_Moderating_Role_of_Mothers'_Gender_Stereotypes

Information on the STEM workforce: https://www.theiet.org/impact-society/factfiles/education/iet-skill-surveys-2006-present/iet-skills-survey-2015/?utm_source=redirect&utm_medium=legacyredirects&utm_campaign=2019relaunch

Information about women in STEM: https://www.stemgraduates.co.uk/women-in-stem and https://www.stemwomen.co.uk/blog/2018/03/useful-statistics-women-in-stem