Girls from progressive societies do better at math, study finds

Research co-authored by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) has found that the 'maths gender gap' - the relative underperformance of girls at maths - is much wider in societies with poor rates of gender equality. Published today in the American Economic Review, the research shows that the performance gap between girls and boys is far less pronounced in societies that hold progressive and egalitarian views about the role of women.

The researchers analysed the relationship between scores of 11,527 15-year-olds living in nine different countries and the Gender Gap Index (GGI) in their country of ancestry. The GGI measures economic and political opportunities, education, and well-being for women.

Almudena Sevilla, co-author and Professor of Labour Economics at Queen Mary University of London explains: "These boys and girls grew up and live in the same country, but their parents came from elsewhere. So, differences in how well girls perform compared to boys - given that they are in the same environment and exposed to the same institutions - is likely to be the result of parents (or their social network) transmitting values about gender equality to their kids."

The researchers found that the more gender equality in the country of ancestry, the higher the maths scores of girls relative to boys living in the same country. The findings were significant and robust even when the researchers controlled for other individual factors that may affect youths' maths performance. In particular, the results show that an increase of 0.05 points (or one standard deviation) in the GGI is associated with an increase in the performance of girls in maths, relative to boys, of 7.47 points - equivalent to about one and a half months of schooling.

Natalia Nollenberger, co-author and Researcher associated with the IE University added: "Use Turkey as an example of a country that has a poor rate of gender equality (0.58). Girls of Turkish ancestry underperform boys of Turkish ancestry by an average of 13.8 points. Our data show that if Turkey had a higher rate of gender equality closer to the average country of ancestry in our sample (0.69), then the maths gender gap between boys and girls of Turkish ancestry would disappear."

Previous evidence had already found a correlation between societal factors and the maths gender gap, but could not establish a firm cause.

"Most importantly", explains Nuria Rodriguez-Planas, co-author and Associate Professor of Economics at City University of New York, Queens College: "this earlier work was unable to establish whether the performance gap is due to girls expecting lower returns from maths in terms of the labour market and the education system, or whether it's due to a message that maths is essentially not for girls. The former is about institutions, while the latter is about values. Our research looks specifically at values like gender equality and we've found that yes, values and views about women really do matter in this context."

The researchers described the results as a contribution to a policy problem of "first order importance" as it highlights the relevance of gender social norms on ' educational outcomes. They argue that policies which attempt to change cultural values about women's role in society "may prove decisive in reducing the maths gender gap", which is accepted as a contributing factor in the gender pay gap.


This research uses a sample of 11,527 15-year-olds who come from 35 different countries of ancestry and live in 9 different countries, and their maths averages 16 points, the equivalent to four and a half months of schooling.

Maths scores come from Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), and the GGI comes from the 2009 World Economic Forum.

Explore further

Girls more anxious about mathematics, STEM subjects compared to boys

More information: Natalia Nollenberger et al, The Math Gender Gap: The Role of Culture, American Economic Review (2016). DOI: 10.1257/aer.p20161121
Journal information: American Economic Review

Citation: Girls from progressive societies do better at math, study finds (2016, May 13) retrieved 20 October 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

May 13, 2016
Liberty in progressive societies?

Not so much.

Progressives believe in such things as "exporting democracy" and having men share public restrooms and showers with little girls. Racism and pedophilia all in one package, how efficient of them.

May 13, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

May 13, 2016
Because such definitions are so malleable, I am a bit puzzled as to what constitutes a "progressive society." Are they politically leftist in nature? Socially liberal? Do they have more post-secondary education?

Further, do such "progressive societies" actually increase math scores overall? Or do they alter them exclusively for girls?

I'll leave it right there. I'm sure that whatever the term may mean, it probably is more about someone's social agenda than it is about education.

May 14, 2016
Can anyone make a serious argument that allowing that account on PO serves any function or principle whatever?

You have at least a dozen accounts and use them to troll rate legitimate posters (as demonstrated in the link below) , you are more disruptive than the cranks and skeptics here,.. i.e. I can make use of the Ignore feature, but can not shut off your incompetent and childish abuse of the rating system.

It seems you're only here to collect 5's, mostly given to yourself, by objecting to cranks and skeptics. You voluntarily read their posts, therefore you are a victim of your own stupidity or your point is to earn 5's from "being anti-crank" than actually saying something about science. Fraud.

May 14, 2016
But other studies finds other. Studies finds usualy what who pay for them wants to find.

May 14, 2016
This is something that should be patently obvious to even the most casual observer. I suppose a study has some value, but it certainly represents work to reveal the obvious.

May 16, 2016
This is something that should be patently obvious to even the most casual observer. I suppose a study has some value, but it certainly represents work to reveal the obvious.

I'm clueless. What does the term "Progressive Society" mean and why would this be "obvious" to even the most casual observer?

May 19, 2016
Thank you for admitting that you wouldn't understand progressive society if you were standing in it.

Which you are.

Your argument is as old as the hills and over the centuries, one by one, those ideas have changed. If you're so "survival of the fittest" and all social darwinist, do you think bringing back slavery would be a good idea? Don't like regulation so, let's take all domestic abuse laws off the books. How about dwarf tossing? Years from now these ideas will all be implemented and there will still be mossbackers that say, "WTF is progressive society and why would I want it?"

In this article "progressive" means "tends to gender stereotype less and have fewer gender based role expectations". The bigger assumption is that they need an education to have a good life. That's why it's progressive. Almost all social ills would be greatly attenuated if not ended if all women had a basic competitive education in their society.

May 21, 2016

Malleus, Your presumptions are so poor, they're not even wrong.

May 21, 2016

Malleus, Your presumptions are so poor, they're not even wrong.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more