Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: June 2012

2 - The Perseverative Search for Sex Differences in Mathematics Ability


Studying “sex differences” in cognition is not a neutral activity, any more than studying “racial differences” in cognition (Caplan & Caplan 1997, 1999). As long as our society is sexist, racist, or biased in any other way, any claim to find group differences is likely, sooner or later, to be held up as proof of the more powerful group's superiority (Eccles & Jacobs, 1986; Wine, Moses, & Smye, 1980; Wine, Smye, & Moses, 1980). One illustration of the lack of neutrality of the study of sex differences is the title of this book, which suggests that its contents will be about the nature and extent of sex differences in mathematics. Indeed, several researchers have suggested that the very presence and the volume of studies of sex differences give the impression that differences have been found (this debate is reviewed by Favreau, 1997). Notice that in the wording of the title, Gender Differences in Mathematics, there is no implication that there is any question about whether there are such differences. However, the field has usually been referred to as “sex differences” rather than “gender differences” research, but in contrast, the use of “gender” in the title of this book serves the important function of suggesting the possibility that, whenever sex differences are found, they may be due to socialization factors rather than to the “biological” ones usually taken to be implied by the term “sex differences.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Aronson, J., Lustina, M. J., Good, C., & Keough, K. (1999). When white men can't do math: Necessary and sufficient factors in stereotype threat. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 29–46
Beal, C. (1994). Boys and girls: The development of gender roles. New York: McGraw-Hill
Benbow, C. P., & Benbow, R. M. (1987). Extreme mathematical talent: A hormonally induced ability? In D. Ottoson (Ed.), Duality and unity of the brain (pp. 147–157). London: Macmillan
Benbow, C. P., & Stanley, J. (1980). Sex differences in mathematical ability: Fact or artifact? Science, 210, 1262–1264
Benbow, C. P., & Stanley, J. (1983). Sex differences in mathematical reasoning: More facts. Science, 222, 1029–1031
Block, J. H. (1976). Issues, problems, and pitfalls in assessing sex differences: A critical review of the psychology of sex differences. Merril-Palmer Quarterly Review, 22, 283–308
Bradley, D. R., & Wygant, C. R. (1998). Male and female differences in anxiety about statistics are not reflected in performance. Psychological Reports, 82(1), 245–246
Brown, R. P., & Josephs, R. A. (1999). A burden of proof: Stereotype relevance and gender differences in math performance. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 76(2), 246–257
Byrnes, J. P., & Takahira, S. (1993). Explaining gender differences on SAT-math items. Developmental Psychology, 29(5), 805–810
Caplan, P. J., & Caplan, J. B. (1997). Do sex-related cognitive differences exist, and why do people seek them out? In P. J. Caplan, M. Crawford, J. S. Hyde, & J. T. E. R. Richardson (Eds.), Gender differences in human cognition (pp. 52–80). New York: Oxford University Press
Caplan, P. J., & Caplan, J. B. (1999). Thinking critically about research on sex and gender (2nd ed.). New York: Addison-Wesley Longman Inc
Case, L. (1984). Female adolescents and underachievement. Unpublished master's thesis, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Toronto
Casserly, P. L. (1980). Factors affecting female participation in advanced placement programs in mathematics, chemistry, and physics. In L. H. Fox, L. Brody, & D. Tobin (Eds.), Women and the mathematical mystique (pp. 138–163). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press
Cherian, V. I., & Siweya, J. (1996). Gender and achievement in mathematics by indigenous African students majoring in mathematics. Psychological Reports, 78(1), 27–34
Cohen, J. (1990). Things I have learned (so far). American Psychologist, 45(12), 1304–1312
Eccles, J. S. (1994). Understanding women's educational and occupational choices: Applying the Eccles et al. model of achievement-related choices. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 18(4), 585–609
Eccles, J. S., & Jacobs, J. E. (1986). Social forces shape math attitudes and performance. Signs, 11(2), 367–380
Ewers, C. A., & Wood, N. L. (1993). Sex and ability differences in children's math self-efficacy and prediction accuracy. Learning and Individual Differences, 5(3), 259–267
Fan, X., Chen, M., & Matsumoto, A. R. (1997). Gender differences in mathematics achievement: Findings from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988. Journal of Experimental Education, 65(3), 229–242
Fausto-Sterling, A. (2000). Sexing the body. New York: Basic Books
Favreau, O. E. (1997). Sex and gender comparisons: Does null hypothesis testing create a false dichotomy? Feminism & Psychology, 7(1), 63–81
Gallagher, A. M., & DeLisi, R. (1994). Gender differences in Scholastic Aptitude Test: Mathematics problem solving among high-ability students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 86(2), 204–211
Garai, J. E., & Scheinfeld, A. (1968). Sex differences in mental and behavioral traits. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 77, 169–299
Gelsthorpe, L. (1990). Feminist methodologies in criminology: A new approach or old wine in new bottles? In L. Gelsthorpe & A. Morris (Eds.), Feminist perspectives in criminology. Philadelphia: Open University
Hunsley, J., & Flessati, S. L. (1988). Gender and mathematics anxiety: The role of math-related experiences and opinions. Anxiety Research, 1(3), 215–224
Hunt, D. E. (1992). The renewal of personal energy. Toronto: OISE Press
Hyde, J., Fennema, E., & Lamon, S. (1990). Gender differences in mathematics performance: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 107, 139–155
Inzlicht, M., & Ben-Zeev, T. (2000). A threatening intellectual environment: Why females are susceptible to experiencing problem-solving deficits in the presence of males. Psychological Science, 11(5), 365–371
Jensen, J. A. (1998). Gender differences in the relationship of attitudinal and background factors to high school students' choice of math-intensive curriculum and careers. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A. Humanities & Social Sciences, 58(8-A)
Kimball, M. M. (1989). A new perspective on women's math achievement. Psychological Bulletin, 105, 198–214
Leahey, E., & Guo, G. (2001). Gender differences in mathematical trajectories. Social Forces, 80(2), 713–732
Mau, W.-C., & Lynn, R. (2000). Gender differences in homework and test scores in mathematics, reading and science at tenth and twelfth grade. Psychology, Evolution & Gender, 2(2), 119–125
Osborne, J. W. (2001). Testing stereotype threat: Does anxiety explain race and sex differences in achievement? Contemporary Educational Psychology, 26, 291–310
Pajares, F. (1996). Self-efficacy beliefs and mathematical problem-solving of gifted students. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 21(4), 325–344
Pajares, F., & Kranzler, J. (1995). Self-efficacy beliefs and general mental ability in mathematical problem solving. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 20(4), 426–443
Pajares, F., & Miller, M. D. (1994). Role of self-efficacy and self-concept beliefs in mathematical problem solving: A path analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 86(2), 193–203
Parsons, J. E., Kaczala, C. M., & Meece, J. L. (1982). Socialization of achievement attitudes and beliefs: Classroom influences. Child Development, 53(2), 322–339
Parsons, J. E., Meece, J. L., Adler, T. F., & Kaczala, C. M. (1982). Sex differences in attributions and learned helplessness. Sex Roles, 8(4), 421–432
Quinn, D. M., & Spencer, S. J. (2001). The interference of stereotype threat with women's generation of mathematical problem-solving strategies. Journal of Social Issues, 57(1), 55–71
Reis, S. M., & Park, S. (2001). Gender differences in high-achieving students in math and science. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 25(1), 52–73
Rosenthal, R. (1979). The file drawer problem and tolerance for null results. Psychological Bulletin, 86(3), 638–641
Rotton, J., Foos, P. W., Meek, L., & Levitt, M. (1995). Publication practices and the file drawer problem: A survey of published authors. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 10(1), 1–13
Royer, J. M., Tronsky, L. N., Chan, Y., Jackson, S. J., & Marchant, H. I. (1999). Math-fact retrieval as the cognitive mechanism underlying gender differences in math performance. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 24, 181–266
Ruble, D., & Martin, C. (1998). Gender development. In N. Eisenberg (Ed.), Handbook of child psychology (Vol. 111, 5th ed., pp. 933–1016). New York: Wiley
Sarason, I. G. (1972). Experimental approaches to test anxiety: Attention and the uses of information. In C. Spielberger (Ed.), Anxiety: Current trends in theory and research (Vol. 2). New York: Academic Press
Schmader, T. (2002). Gender identification moderates stereotype threat effects on women's math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38(2), 194–201
Spencer, S. J., Steele, C. M., & Quinn, D. M. (1999). Stereotype threat and women's math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 4–28
Steele, C. M. (1992). Race and the schooling of black Americans. The Atlantic Monthly, 69(4), 68–78
Taal, M. (1994). How do mathematical experiences contribute to the choice of mathematics. Sex Roles, 31(11–12), 752–769
Tobin, P. (1982). The effects of practice and training on sex difference in performance on a spatial task. Unpublished master's thesis, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Toronto
Tocci, C. M., & Engelhard, G. (1991). Achievement, parental support, and gender differences in attitudes toward mathematics. Journal of Educational Research, 84(5), 280–286
Wainer, H., & Steinberg, L. S. (1992). Sex differences on the mathematics section of the scholastic aptitude test: A bidirectional validity study. Harvard Educational Review, 62(3), 323–336
Wigfield, A., & Byrnes, J. P. (1999). Does math-fact retrieval explain sex differences in mathematical test performance? A commentary. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 24, 275–285
Wigfield, A., & Eccles, J. (1989). Test anxiety in elementary and secondary school students. Educational Psychologist, 24, 159–183
Wigfield, A., & Meece, J. (1988). Math anxiety in elementary and secondary school students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 210–216
Willingham, W. W., & Cole, N. S. (1997). Gender and fair assessment. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum
Wine, J. (1971). Test anxiety and direction of attention. Psychological Bulletin, 76, 92–104
Wine, J. D., Moses, B., & Smye, M. D. (1980). Female superiority in sex-difference competence comparisons: A review of the literature. In C. Stark-(Adamec) (Ed.), Sex roles: Origins, influences, and implications for women. Montreal: Eden Press Women's Publications
Wine, J. D., Smye, M. D., & Moses, B. (1980). Assertiveness: Sex differences in relationships between self-report and behavioral measures. In C. Stark-(Adamec) (Ed.), Sex roles: Origins, influences, and implications for women. Montreal: Eden Press Women's Publications