According to a new analysis of international research, when it comes to math abilities, boys and girls do not differ as much as it is believed.
In fact, despite boys being more confident on their math abilities, girls from countries where gender equity is more prevalent are more likely to perform better on mathematics assessment tests, found the researchers.
"Stereotypes about female inferiority in mathematics are a distinct contrast to the actual scientific data. These results show that girls will perform at the same level as the boys when they are given the right educational tools and have visible female role models excelling in mathematics," said Dr. Nicole Else-Quest, a psychology professor at Villanova University, and lead author of the meta-analysis.
The finding that girls around the world appear to have less confidence in their mathematical abilities could help explain why young girls are less likely than boys to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The researchers examined data from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and the Programme for International Student Assessment, representing 493,495 students ages 14-16 from 69 countries.
The TIMSS focuses on basic math knowledge, while the PISA test assesses students' ability to use their math skills in the real world.
While these measures tested different math abilities, there were only small gender differences for each, on average.
However, from nation to nation, the size of the gender differences varied a great deal.
The two studies also assessed students' level of confidence in their math abilities and how important they felt it was to do well in math in order to have a successful career.
Despite overall similarities in math skills, boys felt significantly more confident in their abilities than girls did and were more motivated to do well.
The researchers also looked at different measures of women's education, political involvement, welfare and income in each country.
There was some variability among countries when it came to gender differences in math and how it related to the status and welfare of women.
For example, if certain countries had more women in research-related positions, the girls in that country were more likely to do better in math and feel more confident of those skills.
"This meta-analysis shows us that while the quality of instruction and curriculum affects children's learning, so do the value that schools, teachers and families place on girls' learning math. Girls are likely to perform as well as boys when they are encouraged to succeed," said Else-Quest.
The results are published in the latest issue of Psychological Bulletin.