While the mindset of “not being a math person” is true for both girls and boys alike, the “fallacy of inborn math ability” is largely responsible for girls believing that they have an innate inability to excel in math.1 This sort of mindset is often thrust upon them not only by the media but also their parents and teachers.
And guess what the result is? You’re right if you’re thinking lower-paying jobs. Girls miss out on successful careers in engineering, technology, science, math, and finance.
According to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, students who study advanced math in high school have higher salaried jobs and fewer chances of becoming unemployed throughout their lifetime.2 This correlation indicates that girls who do not study advanced math in high school are—before they even enter the workforce—already less likely to land high-paying jobs.
Gender disparities are more prominent in STEM careers, especially engineering, the physical sciences and computer science.3 Though women constitute half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, they make up only 29 percent of the science and engineering workforce.4
While the gender wage gap cannot be wholly ascribed to just education level or college major, a report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) points out that there is a strong connection between college major and salary.5 Because most women tend to major in humanities, they end up with lower-paying jobs, while STEM majors (mostly men) are more likely to land higher-paying jobs.6 The EPI’s report also posits that women’s educational experiences as early as elementary school can strongly impact their choice of major in college.7 Because women are taught to eschew STEM so early in their education, they tend to display less interest in STEM subjects than men as they head to college.
The result is that women end up with careers that offer lower salaries or fewer opportunities to progress. Even when compared to their male counterparts, they remain underpaid. And in some cases, women become mired in economic struggles because of these lower wages.
It is imperative to provide girls and women with opportunities for high-paying careers, not only for their own sakes, but also for bringing greater diversity into such professions.8 This can be accomplished by getting our society to change its mindset by recognizing that there is no such thing as the “math gene” and that boys and girls have equal aptitudes for math. Shifting away from this biased thinking will help change classroom teaching methods for the better, allowing girls to explore their interests in math rather than stifling them.
Math, it seems, has become a significant fear factor in why girls and women choose not to become scientists and engineers. It is time that society evaluates what kind of messages it’s conveying to girls and women regarding their ability to excel in math and math-related careers.4 In addition, there is a need to reevaluate how math is taught in schools and universities.
Let us all resolve to shun this harmful attitude towards math at home and in our schools in order to encourage girls to study STEM subjects. At the same time, we need to instill confidence in our girls that there is nothing they can’t do if they put their minds to it—that there is no such thing as the “math gene,” only hard work and resilience.
- Miles Kimball, Noah Smith, and Quartz, “The Myth of ‘I’m Bad at Math,’” The Atlantic, October 28, 2013, https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/10/the-myth-of-im-bad-at-math/280914/.
- Derek Thompson, “Will Studying Math Make You Richer?” The Atlantic, November 4, 2013, https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/11/will-studying-math-make-you-richer/281104/.
- Kelly Wallace, “The ‘boys are better at math’ mindset creates gender gap in sciences,” CNN, October 12, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/12/health/female-scientists-engineers-math-gender-gap/index.html.
- Elise Gould, Jessica Schieder, and Kathleen Geier, “What is the gender pay gap and is it real?” Economic Policy Institute, October 20, 2016, http://www.epi.org/publication/what-is-the-gender-pay-gap-and-is-it-real/.
- Wallace, “The ‘boys.’”
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