A stereotypical belief held by the majority of the public shows that gender biased societies believe males are superior in math to girls and women, often outperforming them with a 30-35 point higher score on their SAT. And while the gender rate in math and science careers are mostly held by men, studies in the past have also suggested that females performances often veer toward feelings of anxiousness when math is concerned. But according to new research conducted by the University of Konstanz and Thurgau University of Teacher Education, past research has provided a limited look into this gender math anxiety belief and newer studies say female math anxiety is a myth.
Collecting data from 700 students in grades five to 11, researches led two studies focusing on students’ anxiety surrounding math prior to and during exams. The second study asked students to detail their anxiety surrounding math in general, outside of classes and exams, to get a better account of why females report greater levels of math anxiety despite their similar mathematical achievements to males.
Although the first study pointed to girls indeed holding more anxiety in terms of math assessments, the second study disputed the popular myth after females reported feeling less anxiety in terms of using mathematics in real-life settings. While test anxiety is normal, the popular belief that boys are better at math could be contributing to females’ math anxiety and general self-esteem.
Another contributing factor lies within the math teachers themselves. While male teachers may expect their female students to have lower levels of math performance, female teachers may also be passing on their math anxiety to their female students. This can result in the lack of confidence girls face, leading to the female math anxiety myth.
With these gender stereotypes affecting both males’ and females’ outlook, researches Natalie Angier and Kenneth Chang also found differing data in a past study with regard to the gender bias surrounding math. While boys often outperform girls on the math sections of the SAT, girls also outperform boys in the classroom. Even with these high scoring females not choosing careers in the math and science field, many poor scoring males do.
This is not to say that boys are intrinsically bad at math, but it does give thought to the messages we send to girls in terms of their capabilities. The US Department of Education found that girls who showed a stronger confidence in their abilities in math were, “more likely to choose and perform well in elective math and science courses,” and that it would help to improve their performance by encouraging their abilities to enhance a wide spectrum of choices for them.
Providing girls (and boys) with the notion that females are just as capable as their male classmates to perform well and succeed in math is crucial in their development. Holding stereotypical beliefs in any area can be damaging to one’s growth, education, and achievements. Becoming aware of the female math anxiety myth can result in the rise of good, intelligent, and capable minds needed in these career fields.
Written by Annie Elizabeth Martin