According to a new study, more girls have negative feelings about math, and those emotions can result in “mathematics anxiety.”
But researchers at the University of Missouri, the University of California-Irvine, and the University of Glasgow in Scotland announced that they believe several issues that do not include math performance contribute to higher mathematics anxiety in more girls than boys.
“We analyzed student performance in 15-year-olds from around the world, along with socio-economic indicators in more than 60 countries and economic regions, including the U.S. and the United Kingdom,” said Dr. David Geary, Curators Professor of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri College of Arts and Science.
The research showed that girls’ math anxiety was not connected to the level of engagement their mothers had in science, technology, engineering, and math careers. It was also not related to the inequality of genders in the countries studied by the researchers, writes PsychCentral’s Janice Wood.
In more gender-equal and developed countries, the gender difference in math anxiety was larger. Also, boys’ and girls’ math performance was higher overall.
The study found that in 59% of the countries that were analyzed, the differences in gender anxiety were over twice the number of gender differences in math performance. These statistics, say the scientists, indicate that factors other than performance are the cause of higher math anxiety in girls than boys.
Geary says the study points to the fact that gender differences in the areas of mathematics anxiety and performance are complex.
Mathematics anxiety is defined as “negative feelings experienced during the preparation of and engagement in math activities,” writes the BBC.
The Glasgow University School of Maths and Statistics Professor Dr. Libert Vittert said that math anxiety can affect a student’s future job prospects.
Vittert added that she was told by a teacher when she was about 14 that it would be a good idea to stop taking math classes because she was unable to understand the subject. Dr. Vittert pushed on to receive a degree in pure mathematics from MIT and now has her Ph.D. She believes it is important to keep girls interested in STEM subjects.
In some cases, parents have an expectation that boys will do well in math and other STEM subjects. This assumption does, however, create an underlying mindset in girls that they are not good mathematicians, says Snow McDiggon of Parent Herald.
The fact is that women are underrepresented in many STEM fields, writes Jennifer Harrison for Gadgette. And even though many women are excellent mathematicians, females many times feel more anxious about math.
Highlighting role models in STEM-related fields is one way to start helping girls feel more empowered in mathematics. Also, parents and teachers alike can begin to be intentional in their encouragement of their females students’ and daughters’ performance in STEM classes.
But PsychCentral quoted Stoet, who said:
“Policies to attract more girls and women into subjects such as computer science, physics, and engineering have largely failed. It is fair to say that nobody knows what will actually attract more girls into these subjects. Policies and programs to change the gender balance in non-organic STEM subjects have just not worked.”