Girls' Math Anxiety Isn't As Bad As We Thought

Turns out girls aren't as scared of math as everyone thought! At least, not according to new research that's forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science.

Popular research has found that girls have more math anxiety than boys, despite the fact that their achievements are similar. But researchers Thomas Götz and Madeleine Bieg of the University of Konstanz and the Thurgau University of Teacher Education found that girls' math anxiety has been overexaggerated, especially in specific areas.

Using data from studies conducted with 700 students from grades 5 to 11, the researchers found that girls experienced more generalized math anxiety as opposed to anxiety that was centered on tests, assessments, and exams. Basically, that means girls are more anxious about and affected by the messages surrounding math, more so than they are anxious about actually doing math.

Not surprising, considering our culture continually tells little girls that they can't do math. According to a press release associated with the study:

According to Götz, Bieg, and colleagues, these results suggest that stereotyped beliefs regarding math ability, rather than actual ability or anxiety differences, may be largely responsible for women not choosing to pursue careers in math-intensive domains.

So it's not because of any innate fear of math that causes girls to dislike math... it's all those cultural messages! As someone who has struggled with math for her entire life, I wonder how my relationship with math (and, ahem, my high school grades) would have been different had the subject been approached differently with me, had I not internalized my fear of numbers and my own perceived inability to deal with them at a very young age.

At this point, it's way too late for me, but I'm hopeful that the world of math and science is opening up to women and girls, helping to dispel that "generalized math anxiety."