## The myth the math the sex

Math has traditionally been seen as a man's game, and the statistics often indicate that there are differences between males and females in their math skills, participation in math activities and performance on tests — called the gender gap in math. Some researchers have proposed this gap is natural — that men are just better at math than women — while others say it's a cultural difference, whereby society somehow keeps girls from pursuing or excelling in math.

The new research points to culture as the culprit, finding that certain countries showed less of a gap between males and females in math. Specifically, these female-math friendly countries have more gender equality, better teachers and fewer students living in poverty.

In many countries, there isn't a gender gap in mathematics performance, the researchers said. As for the United States, they say the gap has greatly narrowed in recent decades as more females are considered "highly gifted mathematicians" 3 to 1 now, instead of 13 to 1 in the s and more women are getting graduate degrees in math, though 70 percent are still men.

None of our findings suggest that an innate biological difference between the sexes is the primary reason for a gender gap in math performance," study researcher Janet Mertz, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said in a statement. The study suggests that "the math-gender gap, where it occurs, is due to sociocultural factors that differ among countries, and that these factors can be changed.

This hypothesis suggests that there are more women who are "average" at math and more men who are really good or really bad at math, and these men who are high-ranking outliers would be the ones who end up in these math-based fields. The data from 86 countries, including the U.

In others, like Tunisia, girls showed more variability. This suggests that culture, not biology, drives women out of math fields. International data It has been suggested that cultural influences on math skills may be nullified by single-sex education.

Single-sex schooling systems are seen in some Muslim countries, so to see if this theory was true the researchers took a close look at the data from Middle Eastern countries.

This gender divide may be due to the type of schooling the boys get. Some of the schools are religious in nature, and contain few mathematics lessons. Many low-performing girls also drop out of school, so the datasets in these countries may be skewed, the researchers say. Equality is key The researchers found specifically that math achievement is highly related to gender equality. When the genders are more equal in income, education, health and politics, the math gender gap was smaller and students did better in math, the researchers found.

Increasing the number of math-certified teachers in middle- and high schools, decreasing the number of children living in poverty and balancing the gender-equality gap could help improve female math skills, student assessment scores and participation in math-based careers. The study was published in the January issue of the journal Notices of the American Mathematical Society. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter livescience and on Facebook.