The Gender Gap in Math and Math Prize for Girls

There is a huge gender gap in high school mathematics, according to a recent paper by Professor Glenn Ellison, “Dynamics of the Gender Gap in High Math Achievement.” Of the top 5,000 9th graders participating in the American Mathematics Competitions (AMC) from 1999 to 2007, just 30 percent were young women. By senior year, the number drops to 22 percent. High-achieving female math students were so discouraged they either dropped out of math contests, or saw their scores droop by their senior year.

In an attempt to address this trend, Ravi Boppana ’86, a research affiliate with the Department of Mathematics, helped launch the Advantage Testing Foundation Math Prize for Girls, which marked its 10th anniversary with a record 285 middle and high school female students from the United States and Canada arriving at MIT to compete for $60,000 in cash prizes.

“Girls perform as well as or better than boys in math classes in grade school, but there is an alarming drop-off in the number of young women who study math in college and pursue math-related careers,” Boppana said. “We created the Math Prize for Girls to help debunk gender stereotypes, and to support young women who see higher-level mathematics as a pursuit that is challenging, fun, and incredibly rewarding.”

For more on this topic read the article in the MIT News, “Math Prize for Girls competition helps to close the gender gap in mathematics” featuring Michael Sipser, dean of the MIT School of Science and the Donner Professor of Mathematics; Department of Mathematics Head Michel GoemansIoana Dumitriu, ’03, a math professor at the University of Washington; and a list of programs designed to prepare students, including women, with supplemental education opportunities.