Do Girls Really Experience More Anxiety in Mathematics?

Women are under-represented in math-intensive occupations, consistent with the stereotype that females are more anxious and less capable in mathematics than males. In cooperation with colleagues at the University of Munich, the Humboldt University of Berlin, and McGill University in Montreal, educational research by Dr. Thomas Götz and Madeleine Bieg of the University of Konstanz and the Thurgau University of Teacher Education points to a critical limitation of previous studies:

They did not assess anxiety during actual math classes and exams but asked students to describe more generalized perceptions of mathematics anxiety. To address this limitation, these researchers examined approximately 700 students and evaluated their anxiety during actual classes and exams, comparing these evaluations with generalized self-report measures of mathematics anxiety.

The result: Girls reported more anxiety than boys on the generalized self-report measure but were in fact not more anxious during actual classes and exams. Detailed results will be published in the journal “Psychological Science” at Wednesday, 28 August 2013.

Two studies examined approximately 700 students from grades 5 to 11. In Study 1, students’ responses to a questionnaire measuring anxiety concerning math tests were compared to real-time self-reports of anxiety directly before and during a math exam. In Study 2, questionnaire measures of math anxiety were contrasted with repeated real-time assessments obtained during math classes via mobile devices.

Study findings replicated prior research and gender stereotypes in showing girls to report more math anxiety than boys on generalized assessments – despite similar math achievement. However, data obtained during real-life math exams and classes showed girls to not experience more anxiety than boys. Findings also suggested that girls’ lower self-concept in mathematics may underlie this discrepancy, with questionnaires allowing inaccurate ability beliefs to negatively bias girls’ assessments of their math abilities and exacerbate their anxiety in this domain.

These findings thus suggest that girls do not actually experience more math anxiety than boys in the classroom, with gender differences being observed only on generalized assessments that permit bias due to gender stereotypes. These results further suggest that stereotyped beliefs regarding math ability, rather than actual ability or anxiety differences, may be largely responsible for women not choosing to pursue careers in math-intensive domains.

Original publication:
Goetz, T., Bieg, M., Lüdtke, O., Pekrun, R., & Hall, N. C., (in press). Do girls really experience more anxiety in mathematics? Psychological Science. (, pub-lished at Wednesday, 28 August 2013)
University of Konstanz
Communications and Marketing
phone: +49 7531 / 88-3603
Prof. Dr. Thomas Götz
University of Konstanz
Empirical Educational Research
Universitätsstraße 10
78464 Konstanz
phone: +49 7531 / 88-4144

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