By Tom Jacobs
In 2005, then-Harvard University President Lawrence Summers wondered aloud whether the lack of women in science- and math-related careers reflected a difference in aptitude between the genders. His comments spawned outrage, debate, and, thanks to Alicia Chang, an interesting new line of research. A postdoctoral student focusing on early childhood development at the University of Delaware’s School of Education, Chang had been comparing the ways American and Chinese parents speak to their children. Summers’s statement inspired Chang and two colleagues to also examine whether American mothers gave their sons and daughters different messages when it came to math. She discussed their troubling results, first published in the December 2011 issue of the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, with Miller-McCune’s Tom Jacobs.
“By grade school, boys are very confident at math, and girls are saying boys are better at math. The issue isn’t actual performance but perception of competence. We hypothesized that by the time you’re in grade school, you might like math because your mother was more likely to talk to you about it when you were very, very young.”
The key findings
“Even [when their children are] as young as 22 months, American parents draw boys’ attention to numerical concepts far more often than girls’. Indeed, parents speak to boys about number concepts twice as often as they do girls. For cardinal-numbers speech, in which a number is attached to an obvious noun reference — ‘Here are five raisins’ or ‘Look at those two beds’ — the difference was even larger. Mothers were three times more likely to use such formulations while talking to boys.”
Read the rest of the article at Pacific Standard Magazine