Peers Crucial in Shaping Boys’ Confidence in Math Skills

The following is excerpted from an online article posted by ScienceDaily.

Boys are good at math, girls not so much? A study from the University of Zurich has analyzed the social mechanisms that contribute to the gender gap in math confidence. While peer comparisons seem to play a crucial role for boys, girls’ subjective evaluations are more likely to be based on objective performance.

Research has shown that in Western societies, the average secondary school girl has less confidence in her mathematical abilities than the average boy of the same age. At the same time, no significant difference has been found between girls’ and boys’ performance in mathematics. This phenomenon is often framed as girls not being confident enough in their abilities or that boys might, in fact, be overconfident.

A study from the University of Zurich (UZH) focuses on a previously neglected aspect of the math confidence gap: the role of peer relationships. “Especially in adolescence, peers are the primary social reference for individual development. Peer processes that operate through friendship networks determine a wide range of individual outcomes,” said the study’s lead author, Isabel Raabe, from the Department of Sociology at UZH. The study analyzed data from 8,812 individuals in 358 classrooms in a longitudinal social network analysis.

As expected, the main predictor of math confidence is individual math grades. While girls translated their grades — more or less directly — into self-assessment, boys with below-average grades nevertheless believed they were good at math.

“In general, boys seem to be more sensitive to social processes in their self-perception — they compare themselves more with others for validation and then adjust their confidence accordingly,” Raabe explains. “When they were confronted with girls’ self-assessments in cross-gender friendships, their math confidence tended to be lower.” Peers’ self-assessment was less relevant to girls’ math confidence. Their subjective evaluation seemed to be driven more by objective performance.

The results of the study suggest that math skills are more important to boys, who adjust their self-assessment in peer processes, while math confidence does not seem to be socially relevant for girls.

Source: ScienceDaily

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[reposted by] Jim Liebelt

Jim is Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for HomeWord. Jim has 40 years of experience as a youth and family ministry specialist, having served over the years as a pastor, author, consultant, mentor, trainer, college instructor, and speaker. Jim’s HomeWord culture blog also appears on and Jim and his wife Jenny live in Quincy, MA.

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