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The Surprising Reason Girls' Interest in Math May Fade

The Short of It

You've probably heard this before: Girls' interest in math often tends to drop as they get older. Now, new research says teachers' bias in grading could be, in part, to blame.

The Lowdown

The study, published by The National Bureau of Economic Research, compared elementary school students' test scores when graded by an outside grader without knowledge of the kids' identities to scores teachers gave knowing whose tests were whose. The teachers graded girls lower in math than the outside grader did, and they also graded boys higher, according to

Test scores only differed in math, not in other subjects.

Gender-biased grading is most likely subconscious, but the long-term effects are substantial, explains the study's lead author, Edith Sand, an economist at the Bank of Israel and an instructor at the Tel-Aviv University's Berglas School of Economics: "Our results suggest that teachers' biases favoring boys have an asymmetric effect by gender—positive effect on boys' achievements and negative effect on girls'. Such gender biases also impact students' enrollment in advanced level math courses in high school—boys positively and girls negatively."

Following the kids for several years, researchers found that girls who were graded harshly in elementary school were less likely to sign up for advanced math and science classes in high school.

The Upshot

Sadly, gender bias can greatly impact girls' career choices and, thus, salaries as adults, Sand says, showing us that, despite the headway that's been made in gender equality, there's still more work to be done. Let's encourage our kids to enjoy every subject, despite the gender stereotypes out there, and to overcome past setbacks, such as a poor test score. The glass ceiling needs to be completely busted through once and for all.

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