Short answer: no.
I’m quite pleased to have run across this article from June 2008 in the U.S. News and World Report that disproves the theory that boys are better at math than girls. According to University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology professor Janet Hyde, the study’s leader:
[We sifted] through mountains of data—including SAT results and math scores from 7 million students who were tested in accordance with the No Child Left Behind Act. Whether they looked at average performance, the scores of the most-gifted children or students’ ability to solve complex math problems, girls measured up to boys. Although girls take just as many advanced high-school math courses today as boys do, and women earn 48 percent of all mathematics bachelor’s degrees, the stereotype persists that girls struggle with math, says Hyde. Not only do many parents and teachers believe this, but scholars also use it to explain the dearth of female mathematicians, engineers and physicists at the highest levels. Cultural beliefs like this are “incredibly influential,” she says, making it critical to question them. “Because if your mom or your teacher thinks you can’t do math, that can have a big impact on your math self concept.”
While I wasn’t great at math (and to this day still wonder if I have dyscalculia because I have difficulty with mental math operations), I kept at it because I liked the challenge. It was the one of the few classes I really had to work hard at. I took 4 years of college bound math courses in high school when the requirement was only two at the time, and the calculus for engineers classes, even though I could wimp out and take the classes for biology majors. I wanted to see if I could handle it with the boys. Though it wasn’t easy, I was pleasantly surprised that I could understand calculus; however, it was really helpful to have some great study groups with a few really smart and handsome engineering majors (yeah, really, not kidding on the handsome part – they definitely made study sessions more interesting).
While my mother never had much to say about my abilities in particular or girls’ abilities in general (good, bad or otherwise), I think that was a good thing. I never had anyone telling me what I couldn’t or shouldn’t do. Apparently that’s not so for everyone. While I’m not an uber-feminist, I did always pride myself on the fact I chose a math- and science-intensive career. I wasn’t in competition with the boys, but it sure did tickle me to know that I could hold my own in the math and science arena. I know my girls are going to do just fine in the math area, barring any unforseen mathematical learning disability like dyscalculia. With an engineering major for a dad, and a science major for a mom, I think the girls have an extra advantage in the math department. For my girls, knowing I had some weaknesses in the areas of math (at least mental math ability), I’ve made it a point to have lots of building materials and math manipulatives. I think early exposure to math and science is a key factor in whether or not girls develop comfort and skill around those subjects.
So, mama’s don’t let your girls grow up thinking they can’t do well in math, because that just doesn’t add up.