Today in debunking quackery: No demonstrable gender difference in math ability.

Awesome.  This’ll really upset the Bell Curve crowd.

Researchers have done a broad study of math ability across multiple countries, and their totally not-shocking result is that there is no real biological gender difference in math ability, leading to the also totally not shocking conclusion that the differences displayed are social and cultural.

The researchers blew away Larry Summers’ favorite biological hypothesis that he got fired for, which was the “greater male variability” hypothesis.  They also took a swipe at Freakonomics’ Steven Levitt, who argued that same-gender classrooms in Muslim cultures are beneficial for girls.  Turns out that’s not true either.  Here is what they did find:

It’s an interesting, counter-intuitive idea, but it also appears to be completely wrong. The authors say that, upon close examination of the data, girls in these single-gender classrooms still scored quite poorly. The boys in these countries, such as Bahrain and Oman, had scored even worse, but Kane suggests that’s because many attend religious schools with little emphasis on mathematics.

Also, low-performing girls are often pressured to drop out of school and so don’t appear in the statistics, which falsely inflates the girls’ overall performance. The point, says Kane, is that these differing scores don’t point to benefits of gender-separated classrooms or speak to features of Muslim culture as a whole – rather, they’re due to social factors in play in a few countries, and the single-gender classrooms are just a confounding variable.

Indeed, Mertz and Kane were able to demonstrate pretty much the exact opposite of those hypotheses: as a general rule, high gender equality doesn’t just remove the gender gap, it also improves test scores overall. In particular, countries where women have high participation in the labor force, and command salaries comparable to those of their male counterparts, generally have the highest math scores overall.

So…in cultures with greater gender equality, there is not only no gender gap, but all math scores go up.  It’s almost like equality is beneficial or something.


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