Confidence Helps Boost Teenage Girls' Math Skills

MONDAY, Jan. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Girls are as good as boys at math, but boys have more confidence in their math abilities, according to researchers who analyzed international data.

The finding that girls worldwide have less confidence in their math abilities may help explain why females are less likely than males to pursue careers in math, engineering, science and technology, wrote study author Nicole Else-Quest, a psychology professor at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, and colleagues.

The researchers found that girls in countries where gender equity is more common are more likely to have higher scores on math assessment tests. Girls were also more likely to do better in math and to have more confidence in their math skills if they lived in countries with more women in research-related positions, the study authors noted.

"Stereotypes about female inferiority in mathematics are a distinct contrast to the actual scientific data. These results show that girls will perform at the same level as the boys when they are given the right educational tools and have visible female role models excelling in mathematics," Else-Quest said in a news release from the American Psychological Association.

For this study, the researchers analyzed data on 493,495 students from 69 countries, aged 14 to 16, who took part in two studies, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and the Program for International Student Assessment.

"This meta-analysis shows us that while the quality of instruction and curriculum affects children's learning, so do the value that schools, teachers and families place on girls' learning math. Girls are likely to perform as well as boys when they are encouraged to succeed," Else-Quest said.

The study is published in the January issue of the journal Psychological Bulletin.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about girls and math.

SOURCE: American Psychological Association, news release, Jan. 5, 2010

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