Although male students continue to outperform their female peers in mathematics, according to the analysis of Programme for International Student Assessment data which included over 1.6 million students from 75 countries around the world, the math gap between genders pales in comparison to the gap in reading where the difference in performance is nearly 3 times as large – except it’s the girls who come out on top.
The sex difference in reading was three times as large as in mathematics. There was considerable variation in the extent of the sex differences between nations. There are countries without a sex difference in mathematics performance, and in some countries girls scored higher than boys. Boys scored lower in reading in all nations in all four PISA assessments (2000, 2003, 2006, 2009). Contrary to several previous studies, we found no evidence that the sex differences were related to nations’ gender equality indicators. Further, paradoxically, sex differences in mathematics were consistently and strongly inversely correlated with sex differences in reading: Countries with a smaller sex difference in mathematics had a larger sex difference in reading and vice versa. We demonstrate that this was not merely a between-nation, but also a within-nation effect. This effect is related to relative changes in these sex differences across the performance continuum: We did not find a sex difference in mathematics among the lowest performing students, but this is where the sex difference in reading was largest. In contrast, the sex difference in mathematics was largest among the higher performing students, and this is where the sex difference in reading was smallest.
The authors of the study show that by working to put into place programs to bring gender parity to math and similar subjects, schools and districts are only looking at half the problem. No real progress will be made until similar efforts are directed towards closing the reading gap between male and female students at the same time in all states – Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, etc.
With grades K-12, student performance is often overlooked in favor of research into major selection and career selection when it comes time for students to go to college. Although in the last six decades women have gone into the workforce in record-breaking numbers, there continues to be a number of professions that remain almost stubbornly self-segregated. Specifically, women make up a very small portion of science researchers, especially doing the kind of research typically recognized and awarded by their colleagues.
Only 3% of recent Nobel Prize winners have been women and no women have won similarly prestigious awards like the Fields Medal, the Abel Prize and the Wolf Prize.