Girls in Science (Gender Differences)
This is a sequel to a previous post in this blog, "Girls in Science". That previous post was based on an article from the blog of The Guardian. This week, a new article has been published in the open journal PLOS One. "Sex Differences in Mathematics and Reading Achievement Are Inversely Related: Within- and Across-Nation Assessment of 10 Years of PISA Data", by Stoet and Geary, examines closely not just the scores in mathematics but also in reading for millions of students across seventy five countries to decipher gender differences:
We analyzed one decade of data collected by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), including the mathematics and reading performance of nearly 1.5 million 15 year olds in 75 countries. Across nations, boys scored higher than girls in mathematics, but lower than girls in reading. 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 implication is that if policy makers decide that changes in these sex differences are desired, different approaches will be needed to achieve this for reading and mathematics. Interventions that focus on high-achieving girls in mathematics and on low achieving boys in reading are likely to yield the strongest educational benefits.There are interesting trends that this study has uncovered. First, although the post from The Guardian highlights the lower scores of girls from the United States in mathematics, this new study shows that for reading, there is an equally disturbing trend. Male students across the globe score lower in reading. Second, Stoet and Goery have demonstrated that in analyzing the scores, it is particularly useful to divide the data between high, average and low performers. Third, the absence of correlation between the gender differences in the exam scores and a country's set of gender equality indicators is especially striking.
The gender differences in mathematics and in reading as a function of student performance are indeed noteworthy:
With in the top 5% of students, there are roughly 2 boys per girl. This can perhaps partly explain why more male students are enrolling in science, technology, engineering and math fields. The corresponding table for reading is as follows:
This is indeed a paradox. Oftentimes, gender equality in education is usually focused on increasing girls' access to quality education. The trends in the international reading exams indicate that in poor countries, the boys are actually the ones that need attention.
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