Gender Difference in Math Performance -- Abstract

By Catherine T. Amelink, Ph.D.
Virginia Tech

The ability to learn and apply mathematical concepts can facilitate or hinder achievement in related areas such as science and engineering (Adelman, 2006; National Science Foundation, 2008). Given the role mathematics plays in relation to students’ success in science, technology, and engineering fields and the underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematic (STEM) disciplines (Trusty, 2002), it is important to consider the mathematics performance of students by gender at different age levels (Federman, 2007). The purpose of this literature overview is to provide an overview of trends in mathematical performance among K-16 students by gender in order to help inform discussions and initiatives related to addressing the gender gap in STEM fields. Environmental factors that impact math performance among females are briefly discussed. The information sheet that accompanies this literature overview focuses on applying statistical data related to gender differences in math performance for use by a variety of K-16 instructional professionals including those offering gender-based STEM programming, institutions offering STEM majors, and organizations involved in STEM outreach activities.

The math performance of females in relation to male peers has been examined to offer plausible explanations for the gender gap in STEM careers (National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP], 2007). Statistical data from some mathematically based standardized tests reveal that males perform at higher rates than females in certain content areas, while in others there is comparable performance between groups (NAEP, 2007; National Educational Longitudinal Survey [NELS], 2004). Trends also reveal that females enroll in similar levels of mathematics coursework, achieve GPAs parallel to male counterparts, and attain degrees in mathematics at equal rates (National Science Foundation, 2008; NAEP, 2007; NELS, 2004). Environmental factors appear to play an influential role in affecting the motivation of females to perform on math-based assessments and also influence their interest in pursuing STEM careers (Hyde, Fennema & Lamon, 1990).

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Developed by The Pennsylvania State University and University of Missouri
Funded by The National Science Foundation (HRD 0120642 and HRD 0607081)