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[ad = Danhall Anna]

*>>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;
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*>>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 &
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*>>Westbury 1989).
*

ad> The argument involving historical trends seems to suggest that

ad> because the sex difference in mathematical ability appears to

ad> be decreasing the difference in mathematical ability is due to

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

ad> mathematics because of social factors in their favour).

ad> However, it is possible that social changes have merely

ad> compensated for a genetic sex difference in mathematical

ad> ability.Girls might be prepared to spend more time

ad> studying than they did 30 years ago because of the greater

ad> emphasis now placed on their academic performance.

ad> Furthermore, many of the male characteristics are due to

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

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

ad> control the development of the proposed superior spatial

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

ad> in mathematical ability over recent years could be due to

ad> lower levels of testosterone that have been reported for men

ad> (due to pollution, etc.).

I agree totally that just because the gender difference has

narrowed it doesn't necessarily mean this is due to social

factors. Yes, it could be due to biological differences!

Developments in medicine, sanitation and nutrition must have

some impact on biology, thus on children's academic

performance. The point about girls' increased effort in

mathematics causing increased performance seems valid, yet

why would girls increase their effort more than boys? (eg.

due to increased emphasis on academic qualifications) Surely

boys too would feel they needed to try harder too? It isn't

just girls who are getting increasing numbers of A-levels and

higher and higher grades.

*>>The perceived usefulness of mathematics appears to be
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*>>largely related to long-term career goals (Chipman & Thomas
*

*>>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
*

*>>courses in high school and college than those students who
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*>>have aspirations for less math- intensive occupations.
*

*>>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.
*

ad> Rather than mathematics being perceived as useful because

ad> ndividuals want to persue maths related careers, perhaps

ad> individuals want to have maths related careers because they

ad> are good at maths. Similarly, individuals might perceive

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

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

ad> the top 1% of mathematical ability are pursuing doctorates in

ad> mathematics, engineering or physical science. However,

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

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

ad> in the top 1% are pursing doctorates.

The point Geary made about boys taking more and more advanced

maths courses being due to them feeling it is more useful

than girls may not be so straightforward. Many people may

take courses they dislike and think are useless just because

they have to. Consider a boy who wants to do a degree in

physics; he may hate maths yet it is essential to get onto a

physics course... and an engineering course.... and many

other male dominated subjects...hmmmm. Research may be

needed on the attitudes to maths courses (eg. why doing it!)

to resolve this issue.

I agree it would also be useful to see how many men are

pursuing doctorates. It's quite funny how Geary's quotes

seem to emphasis only one side of the story (eg. attitudes of

girls quoted only).

*>> 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
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*>>consider
*

*>>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
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*>>boys
*

*>>of this age would have also imagined that working as a
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*>>scientist would be unrewarding.
*

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

ad> questions indicates the results are meaningless (in fact it

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

ad> that age would not consider a scientist to be a preferred

ad> activity (they might want to be football players and pop

ad> stars).

I totally agree... one side of the story again. Totally

ridiculous not to ask boys too... what's the point if you

have nothing to compare the results too! Also, many younger

children may have no idea, or a distorted idea about what a

scientist actually does! It too depends on the science in

question- biology has many girls yet physics doesn't!

*>>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
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*>>finding
*

*>>that the girls sometimes had higher achievement scores in
*

*>>mathematics.
*

ad> The above doesn'Òt address the issue that boys may be more

ad> confident in general.

True..boys are very likely to be more confident! Especially

in adolescence where boys tend to have higher self-esteem

than girls, with girls more prone to depression and the

distorted thinking that goes with it (eg. lack of self

efficiacy).

*>>Regardless of why a sex difference in perceived
*

*>>mathematical
*

*>>competence emerges, it has been argued that perceived
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*>>competence and the associated expectancies for success
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*>>might
*

*>>influence task persistence after experiencing failure, and
*

*>>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
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*>>tendency
*

*>>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
*

*>>failure.
*

ad> This seems very subjective. How can effort be reliably

ad> measured?

Yes, the same problem as in many areas of psychology. Also,

I'd like to bring up the point I just mentioned again about

self-esteem and depressive differences between adolescent

boys and girls. People with depressive tendencies tend to

have an external locus of control (they believe things that

happen are out of their control). Studies have found that

this causes the effect of people giving up after failure, as

they think they can't change anything. The fact that girls

are more prone to depression may mean they have a more

external locus of control, thus meaning they give up more

easily. THIS MAY HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH MATHS!!!!

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

Darling, Andrea

ald295@soton.ac.uk

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