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Eastern European IMO Teams Have More Girls

Girl Math Whizzes Found in Cultures that Value Math

The main part of the study examines participation in the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), a highly challenging, nine-hour, six-problem essay style examination taken by some of the most mathematically gifted pre-college students the world over. In recent years as many as 95 countries have sent 6-member teams to compete in the IMO. The study found that there have been numerous girls who have excelled in the IMO; however, the frequency with which girls of medal-winning ability are identified varies greatly from country to country.

Even some relatively small countries, such as Bulgaria and Romania, can field highly successful IMO teams. “[W]hat most of these countries [that excel in the IMO] have in common are rigorous national mathematics curricula along with cultures and educational systems that value, encourage, and support students who excel in mathematics,” the study says. Since 1974, the highly-ranked Bulgarian, East German/German, and USSR/Russian IMO teams have included 9, 10, and 13 different girls, respectively. By contrast, during that same time period, the US teams included just 3 girls. While only a few students per year typically achieve a perfect score of 42 points in this extremely difficult exam, multiple girls have been among them, including Evgenia Malinnikova of the USSR who missed by only one point achieving a perfect 42 three years in a row.

One of the study’s findings is that many of the students from the United States who participate in the IMO are immigrants or children of immigrants from countries where education in mathematics is valued and mathematical talent is nurtured. A similar pattern holds for data from other highly challenging math competitions, including the USA Mathematical Olympiad and the Putnam Mathematical Competition for undergraduate students, also analyzed in the study. In particular, Asian-American and white girls who are immigrants from Eastern Europe are well represented in proportion to their percentages of the US and Canadian populations among the very top students identified in these math competitions. It is only US- and Canadian-born white and historically underrepresented minority girls who are underrepresented—underrepresented by 50-fold or more relative to Asian girls educated in the same school systems, the study concludes.

The study found that, when raised under some conditions, girls constitute 11% to 24% of the children identified as having profound mathematical ability. Raised under other conditions, girls were 30-fold or more underrepresented. The 8:1 to 3:1 ratio of boys to girls is likely an underestimate. In a truly gender-neutral society, the real ratio could well be close to 1:1; however, we currently lack ways to measure it, the study suggests. Link


See also: The Changing Face Of Intelligence

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