“Stereotype threat” affects girls in maths tests

“Stereotype threat” refers to the idea that negative stereotypes can be self-fulfilling, with individuals’ performance suffering as a result. In a new article, French researchers have examined whether the order in which tests are taken can affect girls’ maths performance. They conducted studies with French middle school pupils (Ns = 1,127 and 498), first with a maths test being taken before a verbal test, and then the other way around with the verbal test being taken first. The researchers predicted that taking the maths test before the verbal test would be detrimental to girls’ maths performance – a stereotype threat (ST) effect.

They found that girls underperformed on the maths test relative to boys in the maths-verbal order condition (ST effect), but performed as well as boys in the verbal-maths order condition. Moreover, girls’ maths performance was higher in the verbal-maths order condition than in the maths-verbal order condition. In a second study, additional measures looking at pupils’ self-evaluations in and perceptions of the maths and verbal domains provided complementary evidence that only girls who took the maths test first experienced ST.

In a previous issue of Best Evidence in Brief we reported on the influence of stereotype threat on the achievement of boys.

Source: Order of Administration of Math and Verbal Tests: An Ecological Intervention to Reduce Stereotype Threat on Girls’ Math Performance (2013),Journal of Educational Psychology.

A self-fulfilling prophecy

“Stereotype threat” refers to the idea that negative stereotypes can be self-fulfilling, with individuals’ performance suffering as a result. In a new article, researchers from the University of Kent have explored the role that stereotype threat plays in boys’ academic performance, and found a correlation. The research comprised three studies.

Study 1 (children aged 4–10, n = 238) showed that girls from age 4 years and boys from age 7 years believed, and thought adults believed, that boys are academically inferior to girls. Study 2 manipulated stereotype threat, informing children aged 7–8 years (n = 162) that boys tend to do worse than girls at school. This manipulation hindered boys’ performance on a reading, writing, and maths test, but did not affect girls’ performance. Study 3 counteracted stereotype threat, informing children aged 6–9 years (n = 184) that boys and girls were expected to perform similarly. This improved the performance of boys and did not affect that of girls.

Source: A Stereotype Threat Account of Boys’ Academic Underachievement (2013), Child Development (online).

Moving to a “better” postcode isn’t the answer

A randomised experiment has explored whether or not where you live has an effect on life chances. Between 1994 and 1998, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Moving to Opportunity (MTO) for Fair Housing programme recruited more than 4,600 families with children living in severely distressed public housing projects in five cities (Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City). Some MTO families were offered the opportunity to use a housing voucher to move into private-market housing in wealthier neighbourhoods, while the others were not.

New research, led by researchers from the US National Bureau of Economic Research, outlines the long-term (10-15 years) impact of the MTO programme on children who were approximately 11 years old or younger at baseline. They discovered few detectable effects on achievement, education, employment, and a range of other health and risky behaviour outcomes. However, there were some encouraging effects on mental health, primarily for girls and young women.

Source: The long-term effects of moving to opportunity on youth outcomes (2013), US Department of Housing and Urban Development, 14(2)

What works and what does not for boys and girls

Child Trends has completed two new research briefs that examine programmes and strategies that work, as well as don’t work, for each gender:

Each brief synthesises findings from rigorously evaluated social interventions for young people. The outcome areas explored include academic achievement, delinquency, mental health, reproductive health, and social skills. One key finding for both boys and girls was that including parents in some way in interventions led to desirable impacts for mental health outcomes.

On the other hand, for reproductive health, one-on-one interventions led to positive impacts for females, but experiential learning activities that included group activities were often effective for boys. In addition, while social skills training interventions were not successful for female children and teenagers in reducing externalising behaviours (eg, aggression), in many cases for males, these types of interventions were successful.

Sources: What works for female children and adolescents: Lessons from experimental evaluations of programs and interventions (2012), Child Trends

What works for male children and adolescents: Lessons from experimental evaluations of programs and interventions (2012), Child Trends

Keep your eye on the ball

Major football tournaments can be a serious distraction for some pupils, particularly during critical exam periods. A study by the Centre for Market and Public Organisation, published to coincide with the draw for next summer’s UEFA European football championship, found that some pupils perform less well in their GCSEs in years when there is a major international football tournament taking place. The effect was particularly noticeable for boys, and pupils from poorer areas, groups that are already lower performers on average.

Source: Student effort and educational attainment: Using the England football team to identify the education production function (2011), The Centre for Market and Public Organisation,