September 27 2012
Mark J. Perry is to be commended for his bravery in writing this post on 2012 SAT scores. The gist of the post is that “a huge math gender gap persists” with boys scoring a meaningful 33 points higher than their female counterparts on this year's SAT tests.
Perry is writing on a taboo subject, as former Harvard president Larry Summers can tell you.
But facts are facts: High school boys averaged out to a score of 532 in 2012, while high school girls averaged to 499.
Neither score is anything to write home about but here we are concerned only with the matter of boys’ scores compared to girls’ scores. Here are two more facts:
Male students outnumbered females for all 2012 math SAT scores of 570 (67th percentile) and above.
As SAT math scores increased by 10-point intervals from 570 to 800, the male-female ratio increased in almost all cases, reaching a peak male-female ratio of 2.01-to-1 for test scores of both 780 and 800.
Now, I am sure that the Harvard feminists, who hounded Larry Summers out of his job when he suggested that there might be a difference in male and female talents for higher math, are massing at the borders. I can already hear them: Girls aren't prepared as well as boys; they are discriminated against in math classes.
But this explanation doesn’t fit with the data. The high school girls had better academic records in math than the boys. More than half—55 percent—were in the top ten percent of their class. Girls were also overrepresented (54 percent to 46 percent boys) in Advanced Placement classes.
Perry quotes University Wisconsin-Madison psychology professor Janet Hyde saying that there are no gender differences between boys and girls when it comes to math abilities. But here’s the bottom line:
Given the significant and persistent gender differences in SAT math test scores that have persisted over many generations, the scientific data about gender differences in math performance would seem to present a serious challenge to Professor Hyde’s claims that there are no gender differences in math performance.
Further, the fact that women hold a “disproportionately low share of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) undergraduate degrees,” and “less than 25 percent of STEM jobs” according to a 2011 Department of Commerce report certainly isn’t because female students are being discouraged from studying math and science in high school. In fact, the evidence shows that females are excelling in math and science in high school – they are overrepresented in AP/Honors math and science courses, and are more likely than their male counterparts to take four years of math and science.
Further, compared to boys, high school girls get better grades on average, and are far more likely to graduate in the top 10% of their high school classes. By all objective measures, girls have essentially all of the necessary ingredients that should result in greater representation in STEM fields like engineering except perhaps for one: that huge, statistically significant +30-point gender gap on the SAT math test in favor of boys that persists over time.
This doesn't mean there aren't female math geniuses. It doesn’t mean that a woman who wants to go into engineering or higher math should face discrimination.
But it does mean that adding new anti-discrimination laws, so beloved by professional feminists, won't budge the numbers.