Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: June 2012

3 - A Psychobiosocial Model: Why Females Are Sometimes Greater Than and Sometimes Less Than Males in Math Achievement


We have some numbers that may surprise you, but first you need to supply some of your own. Make your best estimate in answering the following questions: What percentage of all accountants and auditors in the United States in 1983 were female? Now answer the same question for the year 2000. What about other math-intensive professions, say economists? What percentage of economists in the United States in 1983 and in 2000 were female? What about the percentage of all engineers who were female in 1983 and in 2000? Finally, is the difference in achievement scores between girls and boys much larger on tests of reading literacy or tests of mathematical literacy?

Are you fairly confident about your answers? Give yourself a “point” for each answer you supplied that is within five percentage points of the correct answer. According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census (2001), the majority of accountants and auditors in 2000 were female (56.7%), up considerably from 1983 when females made up slightly more than one-third of this profession (36.7%). The comparable values for economists in 1983 and 2000 were 37.9% and 53.3%. Surprised that these values are so high? Most people are. What about engineers? Females were 5.9% of all engineers in 1983 and still only 9.9% in 2000 – values that are probably closer to what most people estimated for all these math-intensive professions.

Ackerman, P. L. (2002). Gender differences in intelligence and knowledge: How should we look at achievement score differences? Issues in Education: Contributions from Educational Psychology
Ackerman, P. L., Bowen, K. R., Beier, M., & Kanfer, R. (2001). Determinants of individual differences and gender differences in knowledge. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93, 797–825
American Association of University Women. (1992). How schools shortchange girls: The AAUW report. New York: Marlowe
Astin, A. W. (1993). What matters in college? Four critical years revisited. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Banaji, M. R., & Hardin, C. D. (1996). Automatic stereotyping. Psychological Science, 7, 136–141
Baumeister, R. F. (1988). Should we stop studying sex differences altogether? American Psychologist, 42, 756–757
Benbow, C. P. (1988). Sex differences in mathematical reasoning ability in intellectually talented preadolescents: Their nature, effects, and possible causes. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 11, 169–232
Benbow, C. P., & Stanley, J. C. (1983). Sex differences in mathematical reasoning ability: More facts. Science, 222, 1029–1031
Birenbaum, M., Kelly, A. E., & Levi-Keren, M. (1994). Stimulus features and sex differences in mental rotation test performance. Intelligence, 19, 51–64
Bryden, M. P. (1977). Measuring handedness with questionnaires. Neuropsychologia, 15, 617–624
Casey, M. B., Nuttall, R., Pezaris, E., & Benbow, C. P. (1995). The influence of spatial ability on gender difference in mathematics college entrance test scores across diverse samples. Developmental Psychology, 31, 697–705
College Entrance Examination Board. (1997). National report on college-bound seniors, various years. New York: Author
De Lisi, R., & McGillicuddy-De Lisi, A. (2002). Sex differences in mathematical abilities and achievement. In McGillicuddy-De Lisi, A., & De Lisi, R. (Eds.), Biology, Society, and Behavior: The development of sex differences in cognition (pp. 155–181). CT: Ablex Publishing
Diamond, M. C. (1999). Enrichment response of the brain. In G. Adelman & J. DePasquale (Eds.), Elsevier's encyclopedia of neuroscience (pp. 655–657). New York: Elsevier Science
Dwyer, C. A., & Johnson, L. M. (1997). Grades, accomplishments, and correlates. In Willingham, W. W., & Cole, N. S. (Eds.), Gender and fair assessment (pp. 127–156). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Eagly, A. H. (1990). On the advantages of reporting sex comparisons. American Psychologist, 45, 560–562
Eagly, A. H. (1994). On comparing women and men. Feminism & Psychology, 4, 513–522
Eccles, J. S. (1987). Gender roles and women's achievement-related decisions. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 11, 135–172
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, 585–609
Evelyn, J. (2002, June 28). Community colleges start to ask, where are the men? 151 women receive associate degrees for every 100 men who do. The Chronicle of Higher Education, p. A32
Gallagher, A. M., & Lisi, R. (1994). Gender differences in scholastic aptitude test mathematics problem solving among high ability students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 86, 204–211
Geschwind, N. (1983). Biological associations of left-handedness. Annals of Dyslexia, 33, 29–40
Geschwind, N. (1984). Cerebral dominance in biological perspective. Neuropsychologia, 22, 675–683
Grandy, J. (1994). GRE – Trends & profiles: Statistics about general test examinees by sex and ethnicity (ETS RR-94–1) and Supplementary tables (ETS RR-94–1A). Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service
Greenough, W. T., Black, J. E., & Wallace, C. S. (1987). Experience and brain development. Child Development, 58, 539–559
Halpern, D. F. (1997). Sex differences in intelligence: Implications for educations. American Psychologist, 52, 1091–1102
Halpern, D. F. (2000). Sex differences in cognitive abilities (3rd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Halpern, D. F., & Collaer, M. L. (in press). Sex differences in visuospatial abilities: More than meets the eye. In P. Shah & A. Miyake (Eds.), Higher-level visuospatial thinking and cognition. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press
Halpern, D. F., Haviland, M. G., & Killian, C. D. (1998). Handedness and sex differences in intelligence: Evidence from the Medical College Admission Test. Brain and Cognition, 38, 87–101
Hampson, E. (1990a). Estrogen-related variations in human spatial and articulatory-motor skills. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 15, 97–111
Hampson, E. (1990b). Variations in sex-related cognitive abilities across the menstrual cycle. Brain and Cognition, 14, 26–43
Hampson, E., & Kimura, D. (1988). Reciprocal effects of hormonal fluctuations on human motor and perceptual-spatial skills. Behavioral Neuroscience, 102, 456–495
Hedges, L. V., & Nowell, A. (1995). Sex differences in mental test scores, variability, and numbers of high-scoring individuals. Science, 269, 41–45
Heister, G., Landis, T., Regard, M., & Schroeder-Heister, P. (1989). Shift of functional cerebral asymmetry during the menstrual cycle. Neuropsychologia, 27, 871–880
Hines, M. (1982). Prenatal gonadal hormones and sex differences in human behavior. Psychological Bulletin, 92, 56–80
Hyde, J. S., Fennema, E., & Lamon, S. J. (1990). Gender differences in mathematics performance: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 107, 139–153
Hyde, J. S., Fennema, E., Ryan, M., Frost, L. A., & Hopp, C. (1990). Gender comparisons of mathematics attitudes and affect: A meta-analysis. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 2, 299–324
Jacobson, L. (2002, April 24). Poll: Public sees schools as a priority. Education Week. Retrieved June 29, 2002, from
Kimura, D., & Hampson, E. (1994). Cognitive pattern in men and women is influenced by fluctuations in sex hormones. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 3, 57–61
Loring-Meier, S., & Halpern, D. F. (1999). Sex differences in visuospatial working memory: Components of cognitive processing. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 6(3), 464–471
Maccoby, E. E. (1966). Sex differences in intellectual functioning. In E. E. Maccoby (Ed.), The development of sex differences (pp. 25–55). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press
MacGillis, A. (2001, December 31). Gender gap dogs nation's vet schools: Nearly 75٪ of students are women, leading some to predict far-reaching changes in the profession. The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved June 29, 2002, from
Matlin, M. W. (2002). Cogntion (5th ed.). Fort Worth: Harcourt College Publishers
Moffat, S. D., & Hampson, E. (1996). A curvilinear relationship between testosterone and spatial cognition in humans: Possible influence of hand preference. Psychoneuroendocrinolgy, 21, 323–337
Naglieri, J. A., & Rojahn, J. (2001). Gender differences in planning, attention, simultaneous, and successive (PASS) cognitive processes and achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93, 430–437
National Assessment of Educational Progress. (1999). NAEP trends in academic progress. U.S. Department of Education
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (1997). Pursuing excellence: A study of U.S. fourth-grade mathematics and science achievement in international context (NCES 97–255). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (1998). Pursuing excellence: A study of U.S. twelfth-grade mathematics and science achievement in international context (NCES 98–049). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2000). Pursuing excellence: Comparisons of international eighth-grade mathematics and science achievement from a U.S. perspective, 1995 and 1999 (NCES 2001–028). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2002). Outcomes of learning: Results from the 2000 Program for International Student Assessment of 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics, and science literacy (NCES 2002–115). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved July 5, 2002, from
Nosek, B. A., Banaji, M. R., & Greenwald, A. G. (2002). Math = Male, Me = Female, Therefore Math ≠ Me. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 44–59
Nyborg, H. (1983). Spatial ability in men and women: Review and new theory. Advances in Behaviour Research and Therapy, 5, 89–140
Nyborg, H. (1990). Sex hormones, brain development and spatio-perceptual strategies in Turner syndrome. In D. B. Berch & B. G. Bender (Eds.), Sex chromosome abnormalities and human behavior (pp. 100–128). Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science
Petersen, A. C. (1976). Physical androgyny and cognitive functioning in adolescence. Developmental Psychology, 12, 524–533
Resnick, S. M., Berenbaum, S. A., Gottesman, I. I., & Bouchard, T. J. Jr. (1986). Early hormonal influences of cognitive functioning in congenital adrenal hyperplasis. Developmental Psychology, 22, 191–198
Resnick, S. M., Maki, P. M., Golski, S., Kraut, M. A., & Zonderman, A. B. (1998). Effects of estrogen replacement therapy on PET cerebral blood flow and neuropsychological performance. Hormones and Behavior, 34, 171–182
Rovet, J., Szekely, C., & Hockenberry, M. (1994). Specific arithmetic calculation deficits in children with Turner syndrome. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 16, 820–839
Sells, L. W. (1980). The mathematics filter and the education of women and minorities. In L. H. Fox & D. Tobin (Eds.), Women and the mathematical mystique (pp. 66–75). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press
Shih, M., Pittinsky, T. L., & Ambady, N. (1999). Stereotype susceptibility: Identity salience and shifts in quantitative performance. Psychological Science, 10, 80–83
Sommers, C. (2000). The war against boys: How misguided feminism is harming our young men. New York: Simon & Schuster
Steele, C. M. (1997). A threat in the air: How stereotypes shape intellectual identity and performance. American Psychologist, 52, 613–629
Steele, C. M. (1998). Stereotyping and its threat are real. American Psychologist, 53, 680–681
Stricker, L. J. (1998). Inquiring about examinees' ethnicity and sex: Effects on AP Calculus AB Examination performance (Report No. 98–1). New York: The College Board
Stricker, L. J., & Ward, W. C. (1998). Inquiring about examinees' ethnicity and sex: Effects on computerized placement tests performance (Report No. 98–2). New York: The College Board
Swainson, G. (2002, January 10). Girls not wired for science, author claims. Toronto Star. Retrieved June 29, 2002, from
Tanner, J. M. (1962). Growth and adolescence. Oxford, England: Blackwell
Ungerleider, L. G. (1995). Functional brain imaging studies of cortical mechanisms for memory. Science, 270, 769–775
U.S. Bureau of the Census. (2001). Statistical abstract of the United States: 2001 (121st ed.). Washington, DC: Author
Vermeer, H. J., Boekaerts, M., & Seegers, G. (2000). Motivational and gender differences: sixth-grade students' mathematical problem-solving behavior. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92(2), 308–315
Willingham, W. W., & Cole, N. S. (1997). Gender and fair assessment. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum