French scientists have found that the lack of women in professions related to mathematics, can be explained by the difference in their performance in math and reading in adolescence. After analyzing data on more than 300 thousands students, they showed that in the 15 years boys and girls make about the same gains in math, but girls significantly outperform boys in reading. This provides girls more advantage in humanitarian professions, which may explain why the field associated with mathematics, they are smaller, write the scientists in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In the professions that fall under the umbrella term STEM (stands for “science, technology, engineering, mathematics”: science, technology, engineering, mathematics) there is a clear lack of women in some scientific fields is also quite widespread sexism. This apparent gender discrepancy is not observed for all directions: women, for example, in many scientific fields related to biology and psychology. A significant disadvantage of women, however, observed in areas associated with intensive study of mathematics.

In part this deficiency may be explained by differences in the ability of humanitarian and mathematical occupations during learning at school. Studies showthat adolescent boys and girls in mathematics is approximately the same level, with girls significantly outperform boys in the Humanities subjects (language and literature), giving them an advantage in the selection of professions related to the Humanities. The authors of these same studies, however, conclude that such differences in learning ability accounts for the lack of women in fields related to mathematics, can not, so the reasons must lie elsewhere.

Again, to test the hypothesis that the comparative success in the Humanities can encourage girls to choose a career in this area, not in mathematics, decided Tom, Breda (Breda Thomas) from the Paris school of Economics and Clotilde Knapp (Clotilde Napp) from the National center for scientific research of France. To do this, they analyzed data on 301306 fifteen students from 64 countries (34 developed and 30 developing): for each participant in the sample was available information about his or her progress in math and reading, collected in the framework of the International program on assessment of educational achievements of students.

The analysis showed that the mean learning achievement in mathematics of boys by approximately 0.1 standard deviations higher than girls in most countries, this indicator proved to be statistically insignificant. While girls outperform boys in reading by about one-third of the value of the standard deviation. And the difference between the academic performance in mathematics and reading in girls by about 0.8 standard deviations higher than that of boys: so girls, despite the fact that, in General, not much worse than the boys cope with mathematics, much more successful in their reading.

Next, the researchers calculated how the academic performance of study participants in various subjects related to their career choice in a field related to mathematics: for this, the researchers analyzed the participants ‘ answers to questions about whether they in the future, for example, to take additional courses in math, not in language, and whether their desired future profession with math or other exact Sciences or Humanities. Scientists have discovered that the desire to choose the mathematical profession among boys by 0.22 standard deviations higher than girls. The difference in this indicator by about 80 percent due to differences in academic achievement in math and reading.

The authors concluded that the gender imbalance in mathematics is highly dependent on the difference in performance on this subject and in reading. While fewer girls in this area is not due to their inability to math, because in 15 years, the study showed, progress on the subject and boys and girls is not significantly different. On the contrary, such a mathematical gender disparity is largely due to the fact that good performance in mathematics among girls is significantly superior to boys ‘ performance in reading, which probably explains the fact that, instead of mathematical specialties they choose more Humanities.

Success in mathematics may also influence the so-called math anxiety — a kind of anxiety, in which the main trigger is mathematics and everything connected with it. To read about this condition you can read more in our last year’s material “Who is afraid of mathematics?”.