Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The gender math gap

Consistent with the prior literature, when children enter kindergarten, girls and boys are observationally equivalent in both math and reading. By the end of fifth grade, however, girls have fallen more than 0.2 standard deviations behind their male counterparts in math. The math gap is equivalent to 2.5 months of schooling. Girls are losing ground in math in every region of the country, every racial group, all levels of the socio-economic distribution, every family structure, and in both public and private schools.

Although teachers tend to rate girls more favorably than test scores would predict, girls lose nearly as much ground on subjective teacher ratings of math ability as they do on standardized tests, suggesting that the poor relative performance by girls is not simply an artifact of standardized testing. We attempt to test socialization hypotheses in a number of ways. Parental expectations regarding math are lower for girls than boys even after accounting for test scores, but controlling for these expectations does nothing to reduce the gender gap. We also find that girls with mothers working in math-related occupations lose just as much ground as those whose mothers are not in math-related occupations, making it unlikely that low familial expectations for girls in math lie at the root of the issue. Parents report spending equal amounts of time with boys and girls doing math-related activities. As a result, including these variables has no effect on the gender gap.

If broader societal forces are working to undermine girls in math, then one might expect to see females fall further behind in states with greater levels of gender inequality in wages, employment, or education. Again, including these variables as covariates does little to alter the gender gap. ...

Having exhausted our ability to explain the gender gap in math using ECLS and concerned about the appropriate level of aggregation to test socialization, we turn our attention to... comparisons of math achievement across countries. ...

We are able to replicate the findings of Guiso et al. (2008) using PISA data: there is a strong positive association between the WEF measure of female opportunity and the relative performance of girls in math. In stark contrast, however, there is no such relationship between gender equality (as measured by the WEF index) and female math performance in TIMMS. The difference in results across these two datasets is driven by the samples of countries included; when one restricts TIMMS to the same countries as PISA, the positive relationship reemerges. ...

In countries where same sex classrooms are common (countries which also tend to have limited opportunities for women to use math skills which would lead one to expect girls should do poorly at math), there is no gender gap in math scores. Note: the gap is eliminated in these countries because the girls achievement is higher, boy’s achievement is the same between countries with sex segregated classrooms and the rest of the sample.
--Roland Fryer and Steven Levitt on a reason to send your daughter to an all-girls school

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