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Society, Not Biology, Is Behind Gender Gap in Math

A study published yesterday ("Debunking Myths about Gender and Mathematics Performance") challenges commonly-held assumptions linking math ability in girls and women to biological factors.  According to senior study author Janet Mertz, a professor of oncology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, "We tested some recently proposed hypotheses that try to explain a supposed gender gap in math performance and found they were not supported by the data."  In other words, girls aren't simply born with less math ability than their male counterparts.

Yet, you can't argue with data that consistently shows boys in the United States outperforming girls in math.  For an explanation, we need to consider social and cultural factors, the study says.  It looked at data from 86 countries.  In some of these countries, the study found no male variation in math achievement.  "We found that boys — as well as girls — tend to do better in math when raised in countries where females have better equality, and that's new and important," says study author and math professor Jonathan Kane. "It makes sense that when women are well-educated and earn a good income, the math scores of their children of both genders benefit."

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