A Study Comparing the Sexes in Mathematics


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In this essay I would like to consider the stereotype that, as a rule, girls are weaker in mathematics than boys. Of course, this is a debate question, there are a lot of supporters and opponents of the statement that boys know mathematics much better than girls do. As a matter of fact, from the second half of the XX century till now, there were conducted many scientific researches based on sociological data, with the aim to prove or refute above mentioned statement. In this essay I would like to consider some of them and try to investigate is it true that girls are weaker in math than boys. Moreover, I would like to provide my own behavior to this issue, which is based on my own experience.

To begin with I would like to consider the stereotype that boys are more capable in mathematics than girls. Many experts consider that this situation was caused by the fact that talented girls do not have appropriate interest to the math and do not consider math like their favorite subject. Indeed, from early childhood, very often girls hear from the adults such statements: "The girl can not achieve successful results in mathematics". In other words, adults impose to girls the point of view that they can not achieve the same success as boys in mathematics. As a fact, girls are instilled in that math is not "girls' class". Consequently, our society has following result: only few girls are interested in this subject and then choose a profession associated with it.

According to Jim Barlow (2006), it can be said that a group of scientists headed by Professor Sean Beilock form the University of Chicago after many scientific researches has found out the reason why girls so fear mathematics, and as a rule show poorer knowledge in this subject in comparison with boys. It turned out that this fear is the influence of the stereotype that math is a purely masculine science, but the main distributors of "mathematical" complex are the young teachers of junior classes. For many years, scientists have observed 17 young teachers and their pupils, who live in small towns all over the country. As a fact, among the pupils participating in the study were attended 52 boys and 65 girls. To be more precise, a group of researchers noted that the evaluation of boys' achievements in mathematics did not depend on the attitude of young teachers to the subject, but the achievement of girls in the same subject attitude is still affected. In other words, the young teachers imposed fear of this very "difficult" subject to the female small pupil. With the aim to detect such interconnection employees of the University of Chicago first of all defined how teachers relate to mathematics, and then determined the degree of pupils' knowledge in this subject. It should be noted that the researchers told the students stories about boys and girls, knowledge of which was on one level, and after the story asked them to draw pictures, which would have been portrayed a student who can perfectly count and read. Based on the results of this test, the researchers found out that by the end of the school, the female students, who have not initially any prejudices about mathematics or their mathematical abilities, acquired it under the influence of their teachers. As a consequence of this situation, by the end of the year female students received lower marks on this subject in comparison with the first months of the year, according to Jim Barlow (2006).

It can be said that the differences between male and female students in understanding of Math become apparent only in high school. In general, this time the girls outperform boys in solving problems in computation, while boys are obviously stronger than the girls in tasks requiring the ability to mathematical reasoning. Although, sex differences in overall ability to mathematical reasoning is quite significant, sex differences in the success solving of certain types of mathematical tasks is even more. According to F. Karnes, Kristen R. Stephens (2002), as a fact, compared with the male, the number of females, who had completed study of mathematics courses in high school and college in accordance with the qualification requirements is much lower. Moreover, females rarely choose the faculties of natural sciences in college (which require successful completion of a certain amount of mathematical courses of study in high school) and have a lower expectancy of work in areas requiring mathematical knowledge and skills. 

According to N. Reimer, S. Simpkins, J. Star, K. Wentzel (2007), to be precise and explain these differences some experts put forward several hypotheses. It should be noted that the hypothesis of masculine identification states that in order to have an interest and ability to master mathematics, a person must be psychologically identified with the male gender. According to the hypothesis of Social reinforcement - gender related differences in the mathematical achievements are due, at least in part, to differential social reinforcement and the differing expectations of boys and girls. Very interesting is the fact, that according to N. Reimer, S. Simpkins, J. Star, K. Wentzel (2007), Fennema and Sherman have suggested that sex differences in the ability to mathematical argumentation is only the result of the fact that the boys, under the influence of socialization factors, are choosing to study more mathematics courses and study it in greater volume than girls. However, in their turn, Benbow and Stanley provided a theory that contradicts Fennema and Sherman's theory. It can be said that Benbow and Stanley believe that the most likely combination of endogenous and exogenous variables is the cause of the relatively high level mathematical thinking in greater proportion of boys than girls. Although, currently it is hard to estimate what interaction of such factors as environmental features, the ratio of male and female hubbubs, physiological differences in the levels of activation and different hemispheric lateralization could prove sex differences in the propensity for mathematics, according to N. Reimer, S. Simpkins, J. Star, K. Wentzel (2007).

Despite this fact, I would like to say that there are many experts, who consider and prove that mathematical abilities of boys and girls and men and women are roughly equal. Without any doubts these experts are trying to end the famous dispute. According to Robert Sanders (2008), scientists conducted the study with the participation of 1286350 people, as stated by Janet Hyde, professor of psychology and women's studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The result of this survey is truly amazing: the difference in ability to understand and solve mathematical tasks between men and women are so small that it does not deserve any attention. It should be noted that concerning this issue Janet Hyde declared following: "One of the reasons that led me to spend time on it - is perseverance of parents and teachers who continue to stick to stereotypes that boys are better versed in mathematics", according to Robert Sanders (2008). As a fact, this wrong point of view leads us to the situation when girls are advised to stay away from the profession of engineers, physicists and mathematicians, as they supposedly are weaker versed in these sciences. Personally I think that no one will argue the fact that women have made significant progress in technical areas. It should be noted that one half of medical students today are women, as well as 48 percent of students majoring in mathematics. Consequently, arises the question: "If women can not do math how can they get these specialties?". Of course, this fact proves that statement that girls are weaker in math than boys can be related to the one of the major stereotypes in our society.

I am convinced that for a long time, our society is faced with the stereotype that almost no one disputes: the girls are weak in mathematics and exact sciences. But the results of a recent international study, which were published by the American Psychological Association, showed that girls are versed in mathematics as good as boys, but this figure is true in those countries where exists sexual equality. As a fact, the problem lie in the uncertainty of girls in their mathematical abilities, and this fact may explain why girls do not want to work in the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It should be noted that Nicole Else-Quest, Doctor of Psychology in Villanova University stated following: "The stereotype that women's aversion to the exact sciences is contrary to actual scientific data. The survey results show that girls are versed in mathematics better than boys, with the condition that they were trained properly and they have good examples of women who have achieved success in this area", according to S. Reis C. Graham (2005).

As a fact, Dr. Else-Quest has analyzed the data from the International Training Course for the Study of Mathematics and Sciences and the Program for the evaluation of international students. These programs involved 493,495 students aged 14 to 16 years from 69 countries. It can be said that these tests assess basic knowledge in mathematics and students' ability to apply math skills in the real world. Both of these programs provide a clear picture of the mathematical abilities of students. The results showed that there were any differences in the abilities to study exact sciences, namely math of boys and girls, but everything depended on the country of student's residence. In other words, in country with equal rights for men and women the difference between girls' and boys' knowledge in math was not significant. On the contrary, in country with strong traditional values girls have shown weaker results than boys. These tests evaluate the level of confidence of students in their mathematical abilities and the severity level of their knowledge of the exact sciences for a more successful career. To be more precise, despite the slight differences in knowledge of mathematics, the boys were much more confident in their abilities, and were better motivated to succeed.

It should be noted that the researchers also have analyzed the level of female education and participation in political life, their wealth and income in each country. As a result, researches have noted the difference in mathematical ability between boys and girls in some countries. As a rule, this is directly related to the status and welfare of women. For example, if there were a lot of women researchers, the girls are better versed in mathematics and were more confident in their abilities. Without any doubts this analysis shows that children are affected not only the quality of teaching and curriculum, but also how schools, teachers and the family itself relate to the study of mathematics by girls.

In this part of the essay I would like to provide my own attitude to the stereotype that girls are weaker in math than boys are. I presume that in general men and women have different type of thinking and of mind as a whole. As a rule, men's thinking is aimed at strong logical process of thinking, while women's thinking is strongly related with imagination and spontaneous desire. However, I can not argue with the fact that women are more diligent and if they decided to study certain subject - they are completely devoted to it. As a fact, there are cases when girls very talented in exact science, especially in math, but they do not interested to study it. Despite this fact, I would like to say that in my opinion, in general, girls are not weaker in math than boys. I think the matter is in self confidence. As a fact, very often girls do not fell themselves confident in exact sciences and this is the main reason of their attitude to math.

I think that from an early age boys and girls are brought up differently, in accordance with certain sex-role stereotypes. Boys are "inspire" that they can cope with any difficult situation, note their ingenuity, originality in thinking, sayings, all these encourage the active search for appropriate solutions, praised not only for their achievements, but also for tending to them. On the contrary, girls are often disincentive to such intense intellectual search for a way out of problem situations. Girls are praised for compliance, accuracy and precision tasks. It encourages more emotional inclinations, virtues, behavior and appearance. Such directional socialization inevitably creates differences in self-concept in boys and girls, which in turn may affect their achievements in various fields of practice, including education. I presume that higher math achievement of boys at school do not explain their higher propensity for mathematics.

To sum it up I would like to say that there are many different opinions considering the fact that boys are better in math than girls. There are various facts, which form such stereotypes about this issue. Many children are talented, but some of them do not like mathematics - that is why there is an opinion than boys are better than girls in math, as for the girls mathematics may seem too boring. As a fact, boys have better attitude to the exact sciences and as a result, achieve more considerable success in this field.

It should be noted that a lot of surveys were conducted concerning this issue, but even today, it remains a debate question. On the one hand, many experts such as professor Sean Beilock form the University of Chicago after many scientific researches states that the reason why girls so fear mathematics, and as a rule show poorer knowledge in this subject than boys is lie in the stereotype that math is a purely masculine science and the main distributors of "mathematical" complex are the young teachers of junior classes. Also, many scientists consider that adults impose to girls the point of view that they can not achieve the same success as boys in mathematics. From the other hand, the majority experts consider that there are no any differences in the abilities to study exact sciences, namely math of boys and girls, but everything depended on the country of student's residence. To be more precise, despite the slight differences in knowledge of mathematics, the boys are much more confident in their abilities, and are better motivated to succeed.

It can be said that modern society is changing ideas about human capabilities, tends to see its integrity and maximize success, free from traditional stereotypes. Our society is focused on the full development of human potential. In essence, everyone could succeed in any field of favorites. Unfortunately, it does not always happen. Without any doubts, today still there is more favorable environment for men, young and healthy people. There are still professional areas - scientific, technical, mathematical, where the number of women, who have a successful career, is lower in comparison with men. In my opinion, all these researches confirm the fact that girls and boys have equal abilities to study math, but as a consequence of different stereotypes, girls do not feel comfortable in this area. Personally I think that this is the question of time. As a fact, nowadays, emancipation is distributed very fast in the world and more and more girls do not consider that they are weaker in exact sciences than boys and I fully agree with this statement.

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