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Do Girls Like Math? The Answer Matters

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A classroom in the Plains View School in Nairobi, Kenya.

Mathematical and technical occupations and degree programs are considerably more male-dominated in rich, reputably gender-egalitarian societies like the U.S., than they are in poorer, more gender-traditional nations.

Credit: GlobalPartnership for Education /Mediabase

Although the gender imbalance in science and technology is a major issue in affluent countries such as the U.S., it is almost non-existent in many less developed countries.

For example, women earn the largest share of science degrees in countries such as Iran, Romania, and Malaysia. In Indonesia, women earn nearly half of all engineering degrees.

U.S. National Science Foundation-funded research led by Maria Charles, chair of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, suggests this is because female students in these countries are not under nearly as much social pressure to dislike math.

In a study published last year based on a survey of the attitudes toward math held by 8th grade boys and girls in 53 countries, Charles and her colleagues found a much more pronounced gender gap in advanced industrial societies. Girls in those societies were far less likely to say they enjoyed math or to express an interest in pursuing a math-related career. Charles says this is because adolescents in affluent societies are told to pursue their interests, but are simultaneously very sensitive to cultural attitudes about what those interests should be.

In affluent countries, math and technology are strongly stereotyped as male-dominated, whereas these stereotypes have not taken hold in many poorer countries.

From National Science Foundation
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Abstracts Copyright © 2015 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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