The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

CNHI News Service Originals

March 14, 2014

Both genders think women are bad at basic math

Think women can't do math? You're wrong - but new research shows you might not change your mind, even if you get evidence to the contrary. A study of how both men and women perceive each other's mathematical ability finds that an unconscious bias against women could be skewing hiring decisions, widening the gender gap in mathematical professions like engineering.

The inspiration for the experiment was a 2008 study published in Science that analyzed the results of a standardized test of math and verbal abilities taken by 15-year-olds around the world. The results challenged the pernicious stereotype that females are biologically inferior at mathematics. Although the female test-takers lagged behind males on the math portion of the test, the size of the gap closely tracked the degree of gender inequality in their countries, shrinking to nearly zero in emancipated countries like Sweden and Norway. That suggests that cultural biases rather than biology may be the better explanation for the math gender gap.

To tease out the mechanism of discrimination, two of the authors of the 2008 study, Paola Sapienza and Luigi Zingales, economic researchers at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, Illinois, and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business in Illinois, respectively, teamed up with Ernesto Reuben, an experimental psychologist at Columbia Business School in New York City, to design an experiment to test people's gender bias when it comes to judging mathematical ability.

Study participants of both genders were divided into two groups: employers and job candidates. The job was simple: As accurately and quickly as possible, add up sets of two-digit numbers in a 4-minute math sprint. (The researchers did not tell the subjects, but it is already known that men and women perform equally well on this task.) The employers were motivated to choose the best people for the job because they made more money if their hires outperformed the candidates they turned down. At the end of the experiment, the employers took the Implicit Association Test, which measures unconscious bias by forcing you to quickly group together various words. If you associate the word "man" with the word "math" more quickly than "woman" and "math," for example, that reveals a possible bias.

The employers had limited information to make their hiring decisions. In some cases, they got nothing but a glance at the candidate - this revealed the candidate's gender, of course. In other cases, the employers also had the candidate's self-appraisal of how many problems he or she expected to be able to complete in the 4-minute period. And sometimes, after the employers made their hiring decision, they had a chance to change their minds after they were told by a researcher how the candidates had actually performed on a test run of the math sprint.

Men and women employers alike revealed their prejudice against women for a perceived lack of mathematical ability. When the only information that the employers had was a photograph of the candidate, men were twice as likely to be hired for the simple math job, no matter whether it was a man or woman doing the hiring, the team reported online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The hiring bias did not disappear when candidates self-reported their ability on the task, in part because women tended to underestimate their ability while men tended to boast. And even when the employers received accurate information about the actual performance of the candidates, the bias did not fully disappear. The more prejudiced a person was, as measured by the Implicit Association Test, the less likely they were to correct their bias.

The study is "quite important," says Mahzarin Banaji, a psychologist at Harvard University who was not involved in the research, because it shows that people's prejudice not only affects their judgment of women's math skills, but also impairs their ability to correct it. "The stronger the gender stereotype, the less you are likely to change in favor of women even when you hear about [a woman's] strong performance on the test." What's more, the work comes hot on the heels of a paper published just last week in Current Biology that revealed a lack of collaboration between women in science. The fact that women not only tend to underestimate their own math skills when they are job candidates but also underestimate the ability of other women when they are in a hiring position reveals what "members of disadvantaged groups are costing themselves," Banaji says.

 

1
Text Only
CNHI News Service Originals
  • Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 2.16.35 PM.png Are Americans smart to stop drinking diet sodas?

    Recent data from Beverage Digest suggest many are cutting back on diet sodas. Consumption of diet sodas fell more than that of sugary sodas in 2013. This raises two questions: Why is total consumption declining, and is drinking diet soda harmful to health?

    April 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 10.43.57 AM.png VIDEO: Amazing dance moves at NCAA title game

    Eye-catching action wasn't confined to the court at AT&T Stadium Monday night during the NCAA Championship game between UConn and Kentucky. This pair -- apparently a father and son -- delighted the crowd during a timeout with some synchronized dance moves.

    April 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • news_twitter.jpg Travelers fly on Air Twitter

    The enlightened age of social media has dawned over the airline industry, casting shadows over telephone call centers and on-site agents. Facebook and Twitter are racking up the friends and followers while the hold music plays on.

    April 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • VIDEO: White House may ban selfies

    The White House wasn't too pleased after Red Sox player David Ortiz snapped a selfie with President Obama that was later used promotionally by Samsung.

    April 8, 2014

  • 297px-Starbucks_Corporation_Logo_2011.svg.png Why Starbucks won't recycle your paper coffee cup

    When you drop that used white paper cup into the bin next to the door at a Starbucks, have you done your part to save the planet? Starbucks has long hoped that you would think so. After all, there's no better way to attract an affluent, eco-conscious clientele than to convince customers that your disposable product is "renewable."

    April 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • A man with amnesia taught us how memories become personal

    Although not as celebrated as the late American amnesiac H.M., for my money K.C. taught us more important and poignant things about how memory works. He showed how we make memories personal and personally meaningful. He also had a heck of a life story.

    April 8, 2014

  • At many leading schools, football fails to make cut

    To my astonishment, 67 of the top 100 schools, ranked by participation in college-level tests, said they do not field a team, denoting a shift in American high school culture, at least in those schools that challenge their students most.

    April 8, 2014

  • Investigators seek cause of fire that killed three brothers

    Authorities searched the rubble of a burned-out farm house over the weekend for the cause of a fire that took the lives of three young brothers left home alone while their widowed mother worked the overnight shift at a direct mail company.

    April 6, 2014

  • Screen shot 2014-04-04 at 3.36.06 PM.png 3 apps to make your flight easier

    Whether you fly once a week for work or once a year for a vacation, you can bet that all areas of your trip are being monitored by smart phones. While it isn't hard to find an app with your flight info, some apps make the process of flying a lot simpler.

    April 6, 2014 1 Photo

  • Don't blame voters for low turnout

    Suppose nobody votes this year. On Nov. 4 the doors to the polling places are thrown open, and there isn't anyone in line. No absentee ballots are filed. No one litigates, charging either fraud or discrimination, because there weren't any voters.
    It won't happen. But if it did, pundits and activists would surely blame public apathy for such a catastrophe. I'd name a different culprit: the major parties, their candidates and their acolytes in the news media.

    April 6, 2014

Front page
Clinton Herald Photos


Browse, buy and submit pictures with our photo site.

Poll

What are your plans for the weekend?

Enjoying the outdoors
Staying in out of the heat
Traveling
Other
     View Results
AP Video
Olympics 2014
Featured Comment
Featured Ads
Blue Zones Project
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.