GENDER DIFFERENCES AND SIMILARITIES IN ABILITIES

Janet Hyde

Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison


Janet Hyde’s presentation emphasized what she called “the novel concept of gender similarities” and focused on mathematical, verbal, and spatial abilities as basic to science ability. Those abilities are “gender stereotyped,” with boys believed to excel on mathematics and spatial tests and girls on verbal measures.1

Hyde described the power of meta-analysis (see Box 1-1) and discussed a particularly large study of gender differences in mathematics performance that pooled the results of 100 studies that tested more than 3 million people and included a wide variety of data sources, such as assessments from nine states. Averaged over all samples of the general population, the d was equal to minus 0.05, “a tiny gender difference.” Another team of investigators obtained very similar results using somewhat different meta-analytic techniques.2

Might there be an increasing gender gap in performance with age? Second, do the mathematics tests tap lower level math computation, or a deeper conceptual understanding of mathematics and complex problem solving, which is needed to do science?

Using meta-analytic methods to investigate these questions, Hyde found that girls are better than boys at computation by a small amount in elementary and middle school. For the deeper understanding of mathematical concepts, she found no gender difference at any age level. Finally, at the highest cognitive level, complex problem-solving, she found no gender difference in elementary school or middle school, but a small difference among high school and college students. Although that difference deserves attention, it is not large.

The important point is that within-gender differences are enormous compared to between-gender differences.

—Janet Hyde

One explanation for the gender difference in problem-solving favoring high-school and college-age males is the difference in patterns of course taking. Girls have been less likely to take optional advanced mathematics classes in high school, although this gender gap has closed in the last five years. Girls now take calculus in high school at the same rate as boys. Nonetheless, they are less likely to take science courses in high school than boys, especially in chemistry and physics. This handicaps girls in pursuing science careers, and it also handicaps

1

For more details, figures, and references, see Janet Hyde’s paper in Section 2.

2

LV Hedges and A Nowell (1995). Sex differences in mental test scores, variability, and numbers of high-scoring individuals. Science 270:364-365.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement