Gender gap in math--sexist/non-sexist factors

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Gender gap in math--sexist/non-sexist factors

Greetings all! I read this interesting article on Skepchick regarding the gender gap in mathematics being largely the consequence of gender inequality: link


I also took the trouble to browse through the referenced article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Unfortunately, I am not able to refer you all to the url.

What was traditionally suspected was a greater variability in male mathematical performance compared with females. The mean scores in aptitude may be the same for men and women. However, because the bell curve for females is more narrow compared with males (ie. greater variability), the gender differences are most striking at the extreme ends of the curve. That is, there is either a greater proportion of males who really suck at math as well as males who are extremely brilliant at math:

 Darker curve is for males  Based on this data, it has been presumed that the greater variability in males is due to innate factors. However, in the article, the gender differences at the extremes disappear among different ethnic groups and in different nations wherein there is more gender equality (eg. Netherlands). What this article does not mention is that the gender differences can also disappear in countries wherein there is sexism. From the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, here are the list of exceptional female students who competed in the International Mathematics Olympiad: Table 3.

Females scoring among top in world in IMO

Zhuo ChenPeople's Rep. of China122008
Lisa SauermannGermany122008
Maria IlyukhinaRussian Federation62007
Livia Alexandrra IlieRomania72007
Sherry GongUSA72007
Maria ColomboItaly162006
Galyna DobrovolskaUkraine162004
Ana CaraianiRomania62003
Greta PanovaBulgaria102001
Suh Hyun ChoiRep. of Korea151999
Sachiko NakajimaJapan71996
Maryam MirzakhaniIslamic Rep. of Iran1*1995
Chenchang ZhuPeople's Rep. of China1*1995
Theresia EisenkölblAustria1*1994
Catriona MacleanUnited Kingdom1*1994
Marianna CsörnyeiHungary141993
Eva MyersUnited Kingdom141992
Evgenia MalinnikovaUSSR1*,1*,111991, 1990, 1989
Jun TengPeople's Rep. of China1*1987
Olga LeontevaUSSR51985
Karin GrögerGerman Dem. Rep.1*1984
Tatyana HovanovaUSSR21976
Lidia GoncarovaUSSR31962


In countries such as Iran, China and Japan there are few who would argue that those nations have achieved gender equality. I completely agree with the authors that the gender differences in the US are not due to innate factors but sociocultural. Where I disagree is that the sociocultural factors are wholly due to sexism. The authors do not mention the most apparent non-sexist factor that the United States is increasingly a nation that celebrates mediocrity and devalues math and science. In a society that devalues intellect in both genders, women are more likely to suffer when sexism is factored in.