Re: Geary 5

From: Darling, Andrea (
Date: Sat Feb 14 1998 - 13:43:57 GMT

[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;
>>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).

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
>>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

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
>>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
>>it to be a preferred activity. This same question was not
>>posed to ninth- grade boys, so it is not known how many
>>of this age would have also imagined that working as a
>>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
>>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
>>that the girls sometimes had higher achievement scores in

ad> The above doesn't 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

>>Regardless of why a sex difference in perceived
>>competence emerges, it has been argued that perceived
>>competence and the associated expectancies for success
>>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
>>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

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

Darling, Andrea

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