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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: June 2012

8 - The Gender-Gap Artifact: Women's Underperformance in Quantitative Domains Through the Lens of Stereotype Threat


Women in the traditionally masculine field of mathematics must contend with stereotypes that allege a sex-based math inability. The threat of being personally reduced to these gender stereotypes can evoke a disruptive state that undermines women's math performance – a situational predicament termed “stereotype threat.” Women are susceptible to stereotype threat whenever they risk fulfilling, or being judged by, a negative gender stereotype that provides a plausible explanation for their behavior in a given domain. This chapter examines the insidious effects that stereotype threat can have on women's performance and aspirations in all quantitative fields.

Picture in your mind the typical computer scientist. Now picture the typical librarian. Is the librarian shy and the computer scientist socially awkward? Do they both wear glasses? Are they both inept at sports? Is the computer scientist a male and the librarian a female? Most people can clearly articulate the content of stereotypes targeted at various groups in our society, and gender stereotypes are no exception. As Brown and Josephs (1999) suggest, stereotypes regarding gender differences in math and science ability still pervade contemporary Western thought. In fact, if you assumed that the direction of those gender differences benefited men, you have just displayed personal knowledge of some of the negative stereotypes targeted at women in our culture. This is not meant to imply that you personally endorse those stereotypes – research has shown no relationship between personal beliefs and knowledge of stereotypes (Devine, 1989; Devine & Elliot, 1995).

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