Girls Rock Their Math Tests When They Aren’t Being Plagued By Sexist Math Anxiety

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Brave may have told a new generation of little girls that they could accomplish anything, but where a bow and arrow aren’t concerned, little ladies are still struggling — in math class. It would seem that even when parents aren’t inadvertently setting their daughters up for a disadvantage in numbers, modern math teachers are operating under the assumption that girls just can’t hack that geometry. Another new study affirms that even though girls can certainly hold their on math exams, their test scores can sink faster than that annoying boat in all those word problems due to anxiety.

Cambridge University researchers reportedly studied 433 British secondary school children to discern if math anxiety impacts the performance of both boys and girls. After controlling for test anxiety, researchers learned that girls generally do just fine. But when they panic, they panic hard:

The investigators found children with higher mathematics anxiety have a lower mathematics performance, but girls showed higher levels of mathematics anxiety than boys and it was a significant indicator of their performance. The fact that there were no gender differences in maths performance despite higher mathematics anxiety in girls could suggest that girls could have the potential to perform better in mathematics were it not for higher levels of anxiety.

Anxiety otherwise tanking girls’ math scores highlights the cultural problem we seem to even subconsciously maintain between ladies and math, from mothers “transmitting” their anxiety to their daughters to other researchers stumbling upon severe gender stereotyping by parents. Little boys meanwhile generally get familiar with numbers from a very young age, getting encouragement and therefore confidence. Yet a little girl can’t even walk into a department store without encountering a suggestion that she sucks at math because she’s a lady.

(photo: Dmitriy Shironosov / Shutterstock)