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Inequality just doesn't add up for girls

GIRLS can do just as well at math as boys - even at the genius level - if they are given the same opportunities and encouragement, according to the latest research.

A study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, contradicts studies showing girls cannot excel in the way males can.

Researchers said it is a clear rebuttal to Larry Summers, who, as president of Harvard University, said in 2005 that biological differences could explain why fewer women became professors of mathematics. Summers is now chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers for US President Barack Obama.

"We conclude that gender inequality, not lack of innate ability or 'intrinsic aptitude,' is the primary reason fewer females than males are identified as excelling in mathematics performance in most countries, including the United States," Janet Hyde and Janet Mertz of the University of Wisconsin in Madison wrote in their report.

They compared various math scores and contests with the World Economic Forum's 2007 Gender Gap Index. This annual report ranks countries according to employment and economic opportunities, education and political opportunities and medical status. The US ranks 31 out of 128 nations.

"We asked questions about how well females relative to males are doing at the average level, at the high-end level and the profoundly gifted level, the one-in-a-million type level," Mertz said. "Countries with greater gender equity are also the ones where the ratio of girls to boys doing well in math is close to equal," she said.

She said no one disputes that at the average level, girls perform as well as boys mathematically.

But at the top levels, disparities persist and some experts have said this is due to the theory that males are more likely to score both extremely high and extremely poorly on tests than girls are. Mertz said the analysis shows this is not true.


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