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How Gender Plays A Role In Learning Math

Recent studies from education researchers suggest that gender gaps in math and science are formed early on. Here’s what parents can do to stop it.

More young women are pursuing higher education and entering the workforce than at any other moment in history. Despite great progress, however, equality in some fields remains especially elusive. The Department of Commerce writes that, as of 2009, “although women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. This has been the case throughout the past decade, even as college educated women have increased their share of the overall workforce.”

How This Gender Gap Forms

Recent studies from education researchers at University of Maryland suggest that these gaps are formed early on. “Kindergarten girls,” they write, “scored just as well as boys on a large national test of science skills, according to the latest in a growing body of research about achievement gaps. But by 1st grade, boys are already starting to pull ahead.”

Some researchers believe that math gaps are tied to expectations, especially those established by teachers. When New York University professor Joseph Robinson Cimpian and his team examined the interplay between teacher’s expectations for girls versus their actual performance on testing, they found an implicit bias that shocked even the teachers themselves. Furthermore, SWE All Together notes, “often, girls have a lack of exposure to STEM-related activities outside of school. These types of activities include computer programming, gaming, engineering (building) things, etc. Boys are naturally exposed to these things, while girls are usually more exposed more to things like dolls, cooking playsets, and dress up.”

What Can Parents Do?

  • Instill confidence through positive influences. Encouragement goes a long way and representation matters. Finding mentors and role models for girls at a young age will show them that math isn’t just for the boys.
  • Introduce girls to STEM-oriented extracurriculars. Find alternatives to traditional in-class learning to make math more fun. Early research suggests that introducing educational online math games can help close gaps between top and bottom level students, especially for young girls.