The case for Math Whiz Barbie


Culture can influence a student's math abilities.

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Are men really wired to be better at math than women? No, says a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, as reported by Science Daily. The difference in math performance is more likely cultural, not biological.

By examining data from standardized math tests around the world, two researchers have found that girls tend to perform as well as boys if a culture emphasizes equality of the sexes. Take East Asian countries, for example, in which girls and boys perform equally well at math. In fact, East Asian students, regardless of sex, usually excel at this subject compared with their counterparts in the United States because the culture encourages the development of strong math skills in all students.

Traditionally, math-related study has been encouraged more in male than female students in the United States. But the good news is that this emphasis appears to be changing, and we're starting to see results. Data in the study reveal that girls are now scoring as well as boys in U.S. standardized math tests. Female students are enrolling in advanced mathematics courses in U.S. high schools at the same rate as male students. And as of 2000, women make up 30 percent of those receiving doctorates in mathematics in the United States compared with only 5 percent in the 1950s.

So, yes, girls can be just as good at math. But this study shows the importance of gender equality in a culture, including an emphasis on mathematics for future success. Now go calculate that drug dosage with confidence!

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