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Parents overestimate boys' math skills more than girls', study says

Shkruar nga Anabel

18 Maj 2024

Parents overestimate boys' math skills more than girls', study says

Parents tend to overestimate the math skills of boys more than girls, says research that suggests gender stereotypes at home may be hindering girls' progress.

Research presented at a lecture at University College London this week found that parents tend to have overconfidence in their children's academic performance across subjects, regardless of gender. But, in mathematics, they tend to overestimate boys' abilities to a greater extent.

"We know that gender stereotypes can be a self-fulfilling prophecy," said Dr. Valentina Tonei, an economist at the University of Southampton, who presented the research in a speech at the Institute of Education.

"Sometimes, we hear that girls don't like math, but what has been done to see why they don't like math? I am convinced that this conclusion does not come only because girls do not like mathematics, but because it is the result of years of exposure to stereotypes.

There continues to be a significant gender gap in maths, physics and engineering, with female students making up just 23% of A-level candidates in physics and 37% in maths for the UK.

The research suggested that parental bias may play a role, following previous studies that teachers expect girls to be less good maths students and grade them accordingly.

Tonei and colleagues analyzed data from nearly 3,000 children and their parents who had participated in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). Parents were asked to rate their children's maths and reading skills at various time points and these results were compared with the children's actual performance on the Naplan tests, equivalent to the SATS studies, taken at ages 8-9.

However, this gender bias was not observed in 1/10 of the parents who responded to the questionnaire after receiving their children's test scores. The effect was smaller among mothers with higher education and those working in female-dominated occupations and among mothers with higher education.

"Parents need clear and objective information to see abilities and support their children better," Tonei said. "Many biases are unconscious, so we need to act early in life. These test results can be a very powerful tool in terms of how parents' beliefs change."

The research also hinted that parental bias can have an impact on a child's educational trajectory. When the researchers analyzed how the children were performing on their next Naplan tests two years later, those whose parents were more confident in their abilities and they tended to perform better. Correspondingly, the gap between girls and boys widened in mathematics.

"The more parents overestimate, the higher the skill level of these children two years later," Tonei said. "Because parents overestimate math skills in boys more, this leads to a reinforcement of the difference in math skills between boys and girls. This may contribute to a widening of the gap over time," she concluded.