The idea that boys are better at maths than girls is hardly new. Seemingly a common misconception, it leads to a warped perception of mathematics in education and beyond. Present throughout society from subtle biases to references in popular culture, the gender imbalance is blatantly obvious in higher education.
Sixty-five years ago, women made up an underwhelming 20 per cent of university students; academia was very much dominated by their male counterparts. Now, however, about 55 per cent of students at university are female, and despite the significant increase in the number of women undertaking higher education, they are still underrepresented in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and particularly mathematics).
Earlier this year, the results of a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research indicated that the gender imbalance in mathematics may extend back to gender biases in primary school. Teachers reward male students higher marks in maths than their female peers, even if they have the same ability level, the study showed.
The researchers looked at the marks for maths work given by teachers who knew the gender of the students being assessed, in comparison with those given by teachers who were unaware of the gender of the students, revealing a gender-bias towards males. From this point, the study examined the effects of this early gender-bias throughout a child’s education. Leaning towards males based on perceived mathematical ability produced long-lasting effects on the educational choices made by students towards their future…