Luigi Guiso of the European University Institute in Florence and his colleagues have just published the results of a study which suggests that culture explains most of the difference in maths, at least. In this week’s Science, they show that the gap in mathematics scores between boys and girls virtually disappears in countries with high levels of sexual equality, though the reading gap remains.
Dr Guiso took data from the 2003 OECD Programme for International Student Assessment. Some 276,000 15-year-olds from 40 countries sat the same maths and reading tests. The researchers compared the results, by country, with each other and with a number of different measures of social sexual equality. One measure was the World Economic Forum’s gender-gap index, which reflects economic and political opportunities, education and well-being for women. Another was based on an index of cultural attitudes towards women. A third was the rate of female economic activity in a country, and the fourth measure looked at women’s political participation.