Are girls less good at math?

Certainly, some will brandish the sex ratio of the winners of the Fields medal. – the most prestigious award given for work in mathematics – to show the superiority of mathematicians over their female counterparts: of the 18 medals awarded since 1936, only one woman – the Iranian Maryam Mirzakhani – was distinguished … in 2014.

But this is only a simple observation, and not an argument to conclude a male predisposition for mathematics. Because, according to the French neuropsychologist and mathematician Stanislas Dehaene, “doing math is a specific condition of the brain”.

The brain must be educated in mathematics

Thus, when the human being comes into the world, he already possesses innate mechanisms of individuation of objects and of perception of small numbers. The baby understands what a quantity is, a number, even if it is still difficult for him to make exact calculations. But this basic equipment is insufficient to master arithmetic. To solve calculations, the brain must establish networks, retrain certain regions, namely wire its brain to do math.

Results vary depending on the country

More than an innate predisposition linked to sex, it is therefore education and learning (work and passion too) that develop the gift for mathematics, and not sex. Moreover, in 2011, the analysis of statistics from 86 countries on students’ math skills, carried out by a team from the American University of Wisconsin, revealed that the differences in levels between boys and girls are very variable, or even reversed from one country to another.

Stereotypes still very present

Under these conditions, how to explain the little inclination of girls for mathematics, knowing that in 2011, in preparatory classes for grandes écoles in France, the proportion of girls was only 30%? By stereotypical perception, which makes mathematics a predominantly male domain.

Pascal Huguet, research director at the CNRS, and Isabelle Régner, lecturer at the University of Toulouse, have shown that in girls, the simple fact of believing that the test offered to them involves math skills is enough to restrict , unbeknownst to them, their performance. A psychosocial handicap that girls must therefore overcome to succeed in this discipline!

According to Science & Vie QR n ° 18 “Male & female” – Leaf through this number – An article originally published in 2017

Read also:

• The math bump predicted from the cradle?

• Does female intuition exist?

• Grothendieck: disappearance of a math genius

Read also in the Large Archives of Science & Vie :

• School failure: the injustice done to boys – S&V n ° 1188 (2016). The numbers are unstoppable: boys fail more than girls at school. Fatality or burden of society? Our investigation.

Buy on Kiosquemag:

• “Man & woman, the real differences “- S&V QR n ° 18 (2015). Why two sexes, both so dissimilar and complementary? A hundred scientific answers to get around the question.