Geary 5

From: Danhall Anna (almd195@soton.ac.uk)
Date: Thu Feb 12 1998 - 20:42:39 GMT


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

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
>perceived value or usefulness of mathematics for
>elementary-school children. However, during the high-school
>years female students begin to value English courses more
>highly than mathematics courses, whereas male students show
>the opposite pattern, valuing mathematics more than English
>(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
>largely related to long-term career goals (Chipman & Thomas
>1985; Wise 1985). Not surprisingly, those students who
>aspire to professions that are math intensive, such as
>engineering or the physical sciences, take more mathematics
>courses in high school and college than those students who
>have aspirations for less math- intensive occupations.
>Chipman and Thomas showed that women were much less likely
>to enter math-intensive professions than equal ability
>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-
>intensive areas is not simply due to the fact that they are
>male- dominated professions, although this likely makes some
>women hesitant to enter, or remain in, these areas. It also
>appears that many girls and women do not believe that work
>in these areas will be especially interesting, even women
>with very high SAT-M scores (Chipman & Thomas 1985; Lubinski
>et al. 1993). Sherman (1982), for instance, assessed the
>attitudes of ninth-grade girls toward mathematics and
>science-related careers. One interview question asked the
>girls to imagine working as a scientist for a day. "A clear
>majority of girls (53%) disliked that day somewhat or very
>much" (Sherman 1982; p. 435). Even those girls who found
>working as a scientist for a day acceptable did not consider
>it to be a preferred activity. This same question was not
>posed to ninth- grade boys, so it is not known how many boys
>of this age would have also imagined that working as a
>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
>confident of their mathematical abilities than are their
>female peers (Eccles et al. 1984). Harnisch et al. (1986)
>found that male 17- year-olds had generally more positive
>attitudes toward mathematics than female 17-year-olds in 8
>of the 10 countries included in their assessment. Eccles et
>al. (1993) and Marsh et al. (1985) have found that
>elementary-school boys feel better about their mathematical
>competence than elementary-school girls, despite the finding
>that the girls sometimes had higher achievement scores in
>mathematics.

The above doesn't address the issue that boys may be more
confident in general.

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

This seems very subjective. How can effort be reliably
measured?

----------------------
Danhall Anna
almd195@soton.ac.uk



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