The May 30 issue of Science has an article by Luigi Guiso, Ferdinando Monte, Paola Sapiezna, and Luigi Zingales titled "Culture, Gender, and Math" that analyzes the gender gaps in math and reading reported in 2003 by the Programme for International Student Assessment in relation to the state of gender equality in particular cultures. They examine the data for numerous countries and with respect to a variety of variables. Their conclusions?
These results suggest that the gender gap in math, although it historically favors boys, disappears in more gender-equal societies. The same cannot be said for how boys score in mathematics compared with how boys score in readings. Boys' scores are always higher in mathematics than in reading, and although the difference between boys' math and boys' reading scores varies across countries, it is not correlated with the GGI (The World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Index) index or with any of the other three measures of gender equality. Hence, in countries with a higher GGI index, girls close the gender gap by becoming better in both math and reading, not by closing the math gap alone. The gender gap in reading, which favors girls and is apparent in all countries, thus expands in more gender-equal societies. Similarly, although the gender gaps in all math subfields decrease in societies with more gender equality, the difference between the gender gap in geometry (where the boys' advantage relative to the girls' is the biggest) and arithmetic (where the boys' advantage relative to the girls' is the smallest) does not.
This evidence suggests that intra-gender performance differences in reading versus mathematics and in arithmetic versus geometry are not eliminated in a more gender-equal culture. By contrast, girls' underperformance in math relative to boys' is eliminated in more gender-equal cultures. In more gender-equal societies, girls perform as well as boys in mathematics and much better than them in reading. These findings shed some light on recent trends in girls' educaitonal achievements in the United States, where the math gender gap has been closing over time.