“Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of.” This is a famous nursery rhyme that is recited by loving parents almost as soon as a child is brought home from the hospital. But does it serve as the backbone for gender stereotypes that permeate our society? Today women make up more than half of college graduates but according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2010) only 13.8% serve as engineers and 24.8% are working in computer and mathematics fields. The resounding question is why aren’t women choosing these occupations? On one side of the argument is the belief that it is a scientific fact that girls just aren’t as talented at math as boys, and on the other side is the belief that girls are stereotypically pigeonholed into traditional female roles from a young age, eventually affecting their self-efficacy in math-related topics and their choice to pursue jobs in this realm (Bandura, Barbaranelli, Vittorio-Caprara, & Pastorelli, 2001; Geist, E., 2010).
Maccoby and Jacklin (1974) asserted that three specific cognitive abilities, verbal, quantitative, and visual-spatial, were at the core of gender differences. Their findings were the genesis of a whirlwind of studies designed to further research cognitive thinking and its relationship to gender differences, including mathematical problem solving (Zhu, 2007). In a separate study, Fennema and Sherman (1976) took a different route and first introduced the topic of gender stereotypes in school by measuring a student’s perception of his parent’s and teacher’s view of his ability to succeed in math, and the student’s attitude, confidence, and anxiety toward his own learning ability in math. They found that high school students felt that boys were better than girls at mathematics even though their grades didn’t support their beliefs (Plante, Theoret, Favreau, 2009).
Over the past few decades, hundreds of studies have tried to explain why girls tend to shy away from mathematical related fields. The discussions focus on determining if gender differences in achievement are biological, social, or both (Bandura, et al., 2001). Zhu asserts (2007) that biological, psychological, and environmental variables all play a role in the gender gap in mathematics. Rochat (2001, p.133) agrees stating “cognition and cognitive development are inseparable from social adaptation.”
From an early age, children’s activities are separated into “boy things” and “girl things.” This early socialization creates a culture that provides the background for performance in school (Gallagher, 1998). Boys tend to explore their surroundings and are considered to have aggressive, objective, and logical traits (Plante, et al., 2009). When a boy is climbing a tree, he is learning several concepts such as spatial visualization on how to navigate the different limbs, problem solving on how to get down once firmly established in an upside-down leg hang, risk-taking by going one branch higher...