US kids develop 'Math is for boys' stereotype as early as 2nd grade

Washington, March 15: Researchers have found that children in the US express the stereotype that mathematics is for boys, not for girls, as early as second grade.

The University of Washington study said the children then applied the stereotype to themselves: boys identified themselves with math whereas girls did not.

The study suggested that, for girls, lack of interest in mathematics might come from culturally communicated messages about math being more appropriate for boys than for girls, said the researchers.

But the stereotype that girls don't do math was odd to lead author Dario Cvencek, who was born and raised in the former Yugoslavia.

"We didn't have that stereotype where I grew up. People there thought that math went with girls just as much as it did with boys," said Cvencek, a postdoctoral fellow at the UW Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences.

Cvencek and his co-authors wanted to examine whether American children have adopted the cultural stereotype that math is for boys during elementary-school years, and if so, whether they apply that stereotype to themselves.

The researchers used a computer-based categorization test, the Implicit Association Test, to assess how school children link math with gender.

The kids, 247 children (126 girls and 121 boys) in grades one through five in Seattle-area schools, sat in front of a large-screen laptop computer and used an adapted keyboard to sort words into categories.

In the math-gender stereotype test, for example, children sorted four kinds of words: boy names, girl names, math words and reading words.

Children expressing the math-gender stereotype should be faster to sort words when boy names are paired with math words and girl names are paired with reading words.

Similarly, they should be slower to respond when math words are paired with girl names and reading words are paired with boy names.

As early as second grade, the children demonstrated the American cultural stereotype for math: boys associated math with their own gender while girls associated math with boys. In the self-concept test, boys identified themselves with math more than girls did.

The researchers also used self-report tests and on all three concepts found similar responses to the Implicit Association Test.

The study has been published in the journal Child Development.

Copyright Asian News International/