Girls worse at math? No way, new analysis shows

Mon Jun 1, 2009 6:55pm EDT
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By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Girls can do just as well at math as boys -- even at the genius level -- if they are given the same opportunities and encouragement, researchers reported on Monday.

Their study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, contradicts studies showing girls can do as well as boys on average in math -- but cannot excel in the way males can.

They also said it is a clear rebuttal to Larry Summers, who as president of Harvard University said in 2005 that biological differences could explain why fewer women became professors of mathematics. Summers is now chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers for President Barack Obama.

"We conclude that gender inequality, not lack of innate ability or 'intrinsic aptitude', is the primary reason fewer females than males are identified as excelling in mathematics performance in most countries, including the United States," Janet Hyde and Janet Mertz of the University of Wisconsin in Madison wrote in their report.

They did a statistical analysis comparing various math scores and contests with the World Economic Forum's 2007 Gender Gap Index. This annual report ranks countries according to employment and economic opportunities, education and political opportunities and medical status.

The United States ranks 31 out of 128 nations on the World Economic Forum index.

"We asked questions about how well females relative to males are doing at the average level, at the high-end level -- 95th percentile or above -- and the profoundly gifted level, the one-in-a-million type level," Mertz said in a telephone interview.

"Countries with greater gender equity are also the ones where the ratio of girls to boys doing well in math is close to equal," she said.   Continued...