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Numbers don’t add up for U.S. girls

Culture may turn potentially high achievers away from math

By
11:51am, October 10, 2008
A combination of peer pressure, gender stereotyping and low expectations contributes to turning potentially gifted kids — especially girls — away from mathematics, wasting a precious national resource, a new study suggests.

The study, by cancer biochemist Janet Mertz of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her collaborators, appears in the November Notices of the American Mathematical Society.

Mertz’s team tallied the participants in top international competitions for high school students, the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition and the International Mathematical Olympiad, and other data. While girls were underrepresented on all countries’ teams, some countries, including the United States, often had no girls on a team.

The large discrepancies between teams point to cultural causes, Mertz says. “It’s not that girls don’t have the intrinsic aptitude to excel at this level,” she says, “but

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