The performance gap between girls and boys in maths is far less pronounced in progressive and egalitarian societies, suggests a new study.
The ‘maths gender gap’ — the relative under-performance of girls at maths — is much wider in societies with poor rates of gender equality, researchers said.
They analysed the relationship between maths scores of 11,527 15-year-olds living in nine different countries and the Gender Gap Index (GGI) in their country of ancestry. The GGI measures economic and political opportunities, education, and well-being for women.
“These boys and girls grew up and live in the same country, but their parents came from elsewhere,” said Almudena Sevilla from Queen Mary University of London in the UK.
“So, differences in how well girls perform compared to boys — given that they are in the same environment and exposed to the same institutions — is likely to be the result of parents (or their social network) transmitting values about gender equality to their kids,” said Sevilla.
Researchers found that the more gender equality in the country of ancestry, the higher the maths scores of girls relative to boys living in the same country.
The findings were significant and robust even when the researchers controlled for other individual factors that may affect youths’ maths performance.
In particular, the results show that an increase of 0.05 points (or one standard deviation) in the GGI is associated with an increase in the performance of girls in maths, relative to boys, of 7.47 points — equivalent to about one and a half months of schooling, researchers said.
“Use Turkey as an example of a country that has a poor rate of gender equality (0.58): Girls of Turkish ancestry underperform boys of Turkish ancestry by an average of 13.8 points,” said Natalia Nollenberger from IE University in Spain.
“Our data show that if Turkey had a higher rate of gender equality closer to the average country of ancestry in our sample (0.69), then the maths gender gap between boys and girls of Turkish ancestry would disappear,” said Nollenberger.
The findings were published in the journal American Economic Review.