By Ruth Eve
As a former science major, I could never figure out why I was one of only a handful of females studying Math and Physics. I assumed most of my female classmates were no good at Math or just had no interest. It was very noticeable in high school, even at lower grade levels, that the good Math students were all male. Later, as a Chemistry major at a university with a strong science and engineering bent, I was one of only 20 females out of a total student body of over 2000.
Yet many scientific studies have concluded that females possess the same abilities in Math and Science as males and it is the way females are raised that makes them turn away from studying engineering and the sciences. So, what’s going on here? This question has been debated and studied for years. Some studies say that girls are socialized to be more emotional and less logical than boys, and if they were given more “male oriented” toys they would be better able to develop the math and spatial abilities that boys seem to possess. This was not so in my case. I had the usual dolls and “girl” toys. My favorite plaything, however, was the Erector Set owned by my boy cousin. I never did get one of my own. My favorite pastime was taking apart old clocks and radios – just to see how they worked, and at age 11 I built a go-cart made by cannibalizing an old baby stroller. None of this seemed unusual to me, and it was not until I was in college that I became aware of the lack of females studying engineering. In fact, out of the 20 females, there was only one studying pure engineering.
Other studies conclude that there is a physiological difference between the male and female brain, and after maturity that gap widens. These differences come about through evolutionary traits based on the different tasks performed by males and females in the distant past. A task such as hunting may have required greater spatial orientation than a typical female task.
Others, still, suggest it is the way in which Math tests are taken, and that males perform better in a competitive environment. Tests taken in a non-competitive environment would reveal less gender difference in Math ability.
I am still inclined to believe that there is something innate in the male brain that gives boys an advantage over girls in the Math and Science department. However, Lina Nilsson offers us an interesting observation in this article from The New York Times.
Ruth Eve is the Executive Vice President & a Partner at Kalix Communications
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