Patricia B. Campbell, PhD,

Campbell-Kibler Associates, Inc.,
80 Lakeside Dr., Groton, MA 01450
978 448-5402

In 1986 the British Royal Society announced, "There is no convincing evidence of innate gender differences in mathematical ability." In 1989 the National Research Council of the United States dismissed the "biological determinism" of sex differences in mathematics, citing evidence from the vast majority of studies finding "almost no differences in performance among male and female students who have taken equal advantage of similar opportunities to study mathematics."

There is a great deal of evidence that sex differences in math achievement are not biologically or genetically based. For example:

In the past 15 years sex differences in mathematics achievement have become small enough, in most areas to be considered negligible. While society may change fast enough for this to happen, biology doesn't. Genetic differences tend to remain stable, but sex differences in mathematics achievement are decreasing.

Sex differences in such traditionally "masculine" areas as spatial relations have been eliminated by changing teaching practices and providing both girls and boys with opportunities to build their skills. Practice can improve many things, but not genes.

The findings that gifted 7th grade boys are much more likely than girls to score highly on the SAT: Math, which are often used to justify a biological basis to math sex differences, are seriously flawed because the researchers:

In earlier ages, it was believed that women could not pursue mathematics because, for example, their heads were too small, their nervous systems too delicate or their reasoning capacities insufficient. Such an eminent educational theorist as Rousseau believed that women were not qualified for research in abstract areas such as mathematics and science because their brains were unfit. While such notions are clearly passe they do have 20th century counterparts (Armstrong, 1985).

The question researchers and teachers should ask is not "Is there a math gene?" but rather "Why is it that the difference in the participation rates of women and men in scientific fields is so large when sex differences in intellectual abilities are so small?"

Armstrong J. (1985). A national assessment of participation and achievement of women in mathematics. In S.
Chipman, L. Brush, & D. Wilson (Eds.), Women and Mathematics: Balancing the Equation. Hillsdale, NJ: L. Erlbaum.
Campbell, P.B. (1989). The Hidden Discriminator. Newton, MA: EDC WEEA Publishing Center.
Dickson, D. (1986). Britain's Royal Society condemns sex bias in math teaching. Science 233, 618-619.