Wednesday, August 12, 2009

New Evidence in Favor of a Gender Math Gap

From a new working paper by Steven Levitt (U Chicago economist, author of "Freakonomics") and Roland Fryer (Harvard economist), "An Empirical Analysis of the Gender Gap in Mathematics":

In this paper, we utilize the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K) to shed new light on the gender gap in mathematics. ECLS-K is a data set administered by the Department of Education. The survey covers a sample of more than 20,000 children from roughly 1,000 schools entering kindergarten in the fall of 1998. An enormous amount of information is gathered for each individual, including family background, school and neighborhood characteristics, teacher and parent assessments and expectations, and test scores, which allows us to test several important theories for gender differences within a unified framework. The original sample of students has been subsequently re-interviewed in the spring of kindergarten, first grade, third grade, and fifth grade.

Consistent with the prior literature, when children enter kindergarten, girls and boys are observationally equivalent in both math and reading. By the end of fifth grade, however, girls have fallen more than 0.2 standard deviations behind their male counterparts in math. The math gap is equivalent to 2.5 months of schooling.

Girls are losing ground in math in every region of the country, every racial group, all levels of the socio-economic distribution, every family structure, and in both public and private schools. By the end of the sample, girls do significantly worse than boys on every math skill tested. Underperformance by girls is evident not just in mean test scores, but also in the upper tail of the math distribution. On entry to kindergarten, girls make up 45% of the top five-percentiles in math test scores; by the end of fifth grade just 28% of the top five percent are female. Girls are underrepresented in the bottom tail of the math distribution in kindergarten, but overrepresented in the bottom tail by fifth grade.

We explore a wide range of possible explanations in the U.S. data, including less investment by girls in math, low parental expectations, and biased tests, but find little support for any of these theories. Our evidence suggests that the gender math gap is especially large among children who attend private schools, have highly-educated mothers, and have mothers working in math-related occupations -- all factors that one might think under some theories would be conducive to girls’ success in math.

Although highly speculative, in the cross-country data we identify one factor that correlates strongly with a small gender math gap: gender-segregated schools. This is an area ripe for experimentation.

MP: Does this mean that Lawrence Summers gets his job back as president of Harvard University?

Originally posted at Carpe Diem.

3 Comments:

At 8/12/2009 4:39 PM, Blogger Andy said...

Why? The separated-gender schools argument seems to be just as reasonable...

 
At 8/12/2009 5:17 PM, Blogger Steve said...

"Although highly speculative, in the cross-country data we identify one factor that correlates strongly with a small gender math gap: gender-segregated schools."

Contrary to MP's point, I think that excerpt supports that idea the way math is taught in gender-mixed classes is less optimal that gender-segregated classes, and that if you adjust for THAT, girls do as well in math as boys.

Different learning styles require different teaching methods. Prior and current methods tend to be focused on hard analytical teaching styles. Girls tend to learn better in more collaborative and less combative settings.

Girls have as much natural ability, but generic teaching methods favor learning styles that boys have, and disfavor learning styles that girls have.

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"MP: Does this mean that Lawrence Summers gets his job back as president of Harvard University?" Better there than anywhere close to the Treasury or Fed.

 
At 8/12/2009 7:11 PM, Anonymous Dr. T said...

"...we identify one factor that correlates strongly with a small gender math gap: gender-segregated schools."

I suspect that the boys fall to the girls' level in gender-segretated schools (rather than the girls rising to the boys' level). If so, then my hypothesis is that boys try harder in math in mixed gender classes: it's the only subject where, as a group, they do better than girls.

In boy-only classes, there is no need to outshine the girls in math, and the boys do no better than the girls.

I think Steve (above) is wrong: there is too much data from too many sources that indicate gender-based differences of intellectual abilities. Why do so many people seek to deny this fact (especially since females as a group get the better deal with their greater abilities in language-related fields)? The math difference is trivial: 2.5 months by the end of fifth grade. That's smaller than the SECOND GRADE reading gap between boys and girls (which gets almost no attention).

 

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