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*>Several recent meta-analyses have suggested that the
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*>magnitude of the sex differences in mathematical performance
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*>has declined over the last several decades (Feingold 1988;
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*>Hyde et al. 1990). These trends support the conclusion that
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*>the magnitude of the sex differences in certain mathematical
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*>skills is responsive to social changes, such as increased
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*>participation of girls in mathematics courses (Travers &
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*>Westbury 1989).
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The argument involving historical trends seems to suggest that

because the sex difference in mathematical ability appears to

be decreasing the difference in mathematical ability is due to

social factors (i.e. males traditionally do better at

mathematics because of social factors in their favour).

However, it is possible that social changes have merely

compensated for a genetic sex difference in mathematical

ability. For example, girls may be achieving similar test

results to boys, but perhaps the girls have to devote a lot

more study time to reach the same level of performance as the

boys (who perhaps are naturally better adapted to do

mathematics). Girls might be prepared to spend more time

studying than they did 30 years ago because of the greater

emphasis now placed on their academic performance.

Furthermore, many of the male characteristics are due to

hormones (testosterone). This could also be true for the male

advantage in mathematics (e.g. perhaps levels of testosterone

control the development of the proposed superior spatial

ability in males). Thus, the decrease in the male advantage

in mathematical ability over recent years could be due to

lower levels of testosterone that have been reported for men

(due to pollution, etc.).

The article then goes on to discuss two other psychosocial

factor - perceived competence and perceived usefulness of

mathematics.

*>Eccles et al. (1993) found no sex difference in the
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*>perceived value or usefulness of mathematics for
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*>elementary-school children. However, during the high-school
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*>years female students begin to value English courses more
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*>highly than mathematics courses, whereas male students show
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*>the opposite pattern, valuing mathematics more than English
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*>(Eccles et al. 1984; Lubinski et al. 1993).
*

However, it might just be that elementary-school children are

trained to give answers such as these, i.e. they are

constantly reminded that mathematics (as well as some other

subjects) are very important. Thus, the higher perceived

importance of mathematics in boys might occur much earlier,

and not necessarily be related to career aspirations.

*>The perceived usefulness of mathematics appears to be
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*>largely related to long-term career goals (Chipman & Thomas
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*>1985; Wise 1985). Not surprisingly, those students who
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*>aspire to professions that are math intensive, such as
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*>engineering or the physical sciences, take more mathematics
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*>courses in high school and college than those students who
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*>have aspirations for less math- intensive occupations.
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*>Chipman and Thomas showed that women were much less likely
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*>to enter math-intensive professions than equal ability
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*>males.
*

Rather than mathematics being perceived as useful because

individuals want to persue maths related careers, perhaps

individuals want to have maths related careers because they

are good at maths. Similarly, individuals might perceive

maths as being useful simply because they are good at it.

However, it has been shown that less than 1% of females in

the top 1% of mathematical ability are pursuing doctorates in

mathematics, engineering or physical science. However,

these women (in the top 1%) might be discouraged by other

factors. Also, it would be interesting to know how many men

in the top 1% are pursing doctorates.

*>The relatively small number of women entering these math-
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*>intensive areas is not simply due to the fact that they are
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*>male- dominated professions, although this likely makes some
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*>women hesitant to enter, or remain in, these areas. It also
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*>appears that many girls and women do not believe that work
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*>in these areas will be especially interesting, even women
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*>with very high SAT-M scores (Chipman & Thomas 1985; Lubinski
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*>et al. 1993). Sherman (1982), for instance, assessed the
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*>attitudes of ninth-grade girls toward mathematics and
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*>science-related careers. One interview question asked the
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*>girls to imagine working as a scientist for a day. "A clear
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*>majority of girls (53%) disliked that day somewhat or very
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*>much" (Sherman 1982; p. 435). Even those girls who found
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*>working as a scientist for a day acceptable did not consider
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*>it to be a preferred activity. This same question was not
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*>posed to ninth- grade boys, so it is not known how many boys
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*>of this age would have also imagined that working as a
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*>scientist would be unrewarding.
*

The fact that the above study did not ask boys the same

questions indicates the results are meaningless (in fact it

seems pointless to have included the study). Perhaps boys at

that age would not consider a scientist to be a preferred

activity (they might want to be football players and pop

stars).

*>In the United States, adolescent males are typically more
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*>confident of their mathematical abilities than are their
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*>female peers (Eccles et al. 1984). Harnisch et al. (1986)
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*>found that male 17- year-olds had generally more positive
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*>attitudes toward mathematics than female 17-year-olds in 8
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*>of the 10 countries included in their assessment. Eccles et
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*>al. (1993) and Marsh et al. (1985) have found that
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*>elementary-school boys feel better about their mathematical
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*>competence than elementary-school girls, despite the finding
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*>that the girls sometimes had higher achievement scores in
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*>mathematics.
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The above doesn'Òt address the issue that boys may be more

confident in general.

*>Regardless of why a sex difference in perceived mathematical
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*>competence emerges, it has been argued that perceived
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*>competence and the associated expectancies for success might
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*>influence task persistence after experiencing failure, and
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*>influence the likelihood that the individual will aspire to
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*>a math- intensive career (Chipman et al. 1992). Eccles et
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*>al. (1984), however, found no sex difference in the tendency
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*>to persist on a mathematical problem-solving task following
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*>failure, although Kloosterman (1990) found that for
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*>algebraic problem solving, high- school boys tended to
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*>increase their efforts following failure, whereas
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*>high-school girls tended to show less effort following
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*>failure.
*

This seems very subjective. How can effort be reliably

measured?

----------------------

Danhall Anna

almd195@soton.ac.uk

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