Over the summer I had a delightful time at IdeaCity, but one particular talk annoyed me tremendously; A speaker claimed that boys are innately better at math and science than girls. And unfortunately, there was no Q&A.
So I’m extremely pleased to see the new article in Science mag setting the record straight. Such notions about natural differences between our abilities are not only personally insulting, they perpetuate a negative message to young women and men interested in STEM regarding social expectations. So I hope the Lawrence H. Summers of the world will take note:
Much attention has been given to the gap in performance between boys and girls in mathematics skills. In a new study, [Jonathan Kane and Janet Mertz] examine this gender gap and test several popular explanations. Their cross-cultural analysis seems to rule out several causal candidates, including coeducational schools, low standards of living, and innate variability among boys — a proposal made famous in a 2005 speech by Lawrence H. Summers, who was Harvard University’s president at the time. “We have pretty clear data debunking the greater male variability hypothesis,” Mertz says.
While the authors do not completely rule out the possibility of very small biological differences, they indicate that local social factors are likely the primary culprit.
Gender gaps vary from place to place, showing that cultural factors swamp biological ones.
I also particularly like this quote regarding their conclusions:
“If we were willing to speculate, one thing the U.S. might do to improve math performance would be to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” ~ Janet Mertz
Go read the full article, share it widely, and let’s finally snuff out the false and damaging message that women aren’t as smart or capable as our male colleagues in STEM.