2012 SAT test results: A huge math gender gap persists with a 33-point advantage for high school boys
The College Board released its 2012 SAT college-entrance test results this week, and here are some highlights:
1. Continuing an uninterrupted trend that dates back to at least 1972, high school boys outperformed girls on the 2012 SAT math test with an average score of 532 points compared to the average score of 499 for females, see top chart above. The statistically significant 33-point male advantage this year on the SAT math test is two points higher than the 31-point difference last year, and just slightly below the 35-point average SAT math score gender gap favoring boys over the last 25 years.
2. For scores in the highest 100-point range of 700-800 on the 2012 math SAT test, boys outnumbered girls by 73,844 to 43,838, which would mean that there were 165 boys for every 100 girls scoring at 700 or above. To account for the large difference in the number of girls taking the SAT test (886,000) compared to boys (778,000), we can calculate that 9.5% of boys taking the math SAT exam scored between 700-800 compared to 5.1% of the girls taking the test, for an adjusted ratio of 186 boys per 100 girls scoring at 700 or above.
The College Board also reports 2012 SAT math test results by gender for all scores between 200 to 800 in 10-point increments (data here), and the male-female ratios for each of those 10-point increments are displayed in the bottom chart above. Here are some observations:
3. Male students outnumbered females for all 2012 math SAT scores of 570 (67th percentile) and above.
4. As SAT math scores increased by 10-point intervals from 570 to 800, the male-female ratio increased in almost all cases, reaching a peak male-female ratio of 2.01-to-1 for test scores of both 780 and 800.
5. Like above, we can adjust for the fact that more young women than men took the SAT test in 2012, and compare the percentage of males who earned perfect scores (1.0%) to the percentage of females with perfect scores (0.43%), which produces an adjusted male-female ratio of 2.29-to-1 (vs. the 2.01 unadjusted ratio) for students who scored a perfect score of 800.
One possible explanation for the fact that high school boys consistently score higher on average than girls on the math SAT test, and outnumber girls 2-to-1 for perfect scores, would be that boys are better students on average than girls and are better prepared in mathematics than their female classmates. But that explanation would be false, when you consider the following data provided by the College Board for students taking the 2012 SAT test:
6. For 2012 SAT test-takers, high school girls had superior overall academic high school records compared to boys: 55% of the students in the top 10 percent of their graduating classes were female, 59% of the students graduating with an A+ grade point average were female, and high schools girls graduated with a higher overall average GPA of 3.42 compared to a 3.28 average GPA for their male counterparts.
7. High school girls were over-represented in advanced AP/Honors math classes (54%) compared to boys (46%), and also in advanced AP/Honors science classes by 55% to 45%.
8. For those high schools taking four years of mathematics, high school girls were over-represented (52%) compared to boys (48%), and more of the high school students studying high school science for four years were female students (53%) than male (47%).
Bottom Line: Even though female high school students are better prepared academically on many different measures than their male classmates, both overall and for mathematics specifically, female high school students score significantly lower on the SAT math test, and the +30-point differences in test scores favoring males has persisted for generations. At the high end of math performance, high school males significantly outperformed their female counterparts on the 2012 SAT math test by a ratio of 2-1 for perfect and near-perfect scores.
And yet, despite the persistent, statistically significant differences in math performance by gender on the math SAT test that continue over time, we frequently hear statements like this: “There just aren’t gender differences anymore in math performance,” says University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology professor Janet Hyde, “So parents and teachers need to revise their thoughts about this. Stereotypes are very, very resistant to change, but as a scientist I have to challenge them with data.”
Given the significant and persistent gender differences in SAT math test scores that have persisted over many generations, the scientific data about gender differences in math performance would seem to present a serious challenge to Professor Hyde’s claims that there are no gender differences in math performance.
Further, the fact that women hold a “disproportionately low share of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) undergraduate degrees,” and “less than 25 percent of STEM jobs” according to a 2011 Department of Commerce report certainly isn’t because female students are being discouraged from studying math and science in high school. In fact, the evidence shows that females are excelling in math and science in high school – they are overrepresented in AP/Honors math and science courses, and are more likely than their male counterparts to take four years of math and science.
Further, compared to boys, high school girls get better grades on average, and are far more likely to graduate in the top 10% of their high school classes. By all objective measures, girls have essentially all of the necessary ingredients that should result in greater representation in STEM fields like engineering except perhaps for one: that huge, statistically significant +30-point gender gap on the SAT math test in favor of boys that persists over time.