For years, some women often have been discouraged from the fields of engineering and physics due to a widespread stereotype that men are more skilled at mathematics than their female counterparts.
However, a recent meta-analysis conducted by University of Wisconsin professors Sara Lindberg, Janet Hyde and Jennifer Peterson and University of California-Berkeley professor Marcia Linn discredited this stereotype and determined there is no gender difference in math performance between women and men.
According to Dr. Jennifer Sheridan, executive director of the Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute, in previous years the number of undergraduate women who chose engineering remained fairly stagnant.
However, the number of women pursuing engineering has increased in the last year.
Prior to last year, Sheridan said the number of women studying engineering did not rise above 26 percent.
“It’s pretty well known throughout the university that, in terms of grades, undergraduate women get better grades than men,” Sheridan said.
The study found stereotypes about female inferiority in mathematics are contrary to the scientific data on actual performance. These findings raise controversy over issues such as single-sex math classrooms, according to the study.
“Women are doing very well, not only in the engineering field, but also in all educational fields, ” Sheridan said. “Throughout the entire university, no matter what major, women get better grades than men.”
According to the study itself, the results successfully disprove the outdated stereotype by providing strong evidence of gender similarities in mathematics performances.
“Women becoming more interested in engineering and physics at the university will benefit everyone overall,” Hyde said. “Above all, I hope that the scientific data will overturn some stereotypes that just aren’t accurate.”
Meta-analysis is a practice where data is extracted from previous studies. In this instance the researchers examined performance data on various kinds of math from studies conducted in the last two decades.
The group looked at 242 different studies, which represented testing of 1.2 million people. They then extracted data from each study and averaged the statistics.
Hyde hopes these results will become widely known and women will become more interested in engineering and physics at UW.