The impact of self-selection on patterns of gender differences in mathematics achievement

Year: 1997

Author: Rowley, Glenn, Brew, Christine, Leder, Gilah

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Gender differences in school achievement have been a fertile field for research, and in mathematics and science, particularly, a matter of public concern. At senior levels of secondary school, where these subjects are no longer compulsory, differences in achievement are confounded with differences in the groups of males and females who choose to study the subjects. In Victoria, three mathematics subjects are offered at year 12, forming a hierarchy of perceived difficulty. This study uses data from the 1994, 1995 and 1996 Victorian Certificate of Education results to examine the extent to which group differences in mathematics achievement can be accounted for by differences in patterns of self-selection between males and females. By modelling different selection patterns, we show that gender differences are particularly sensitive to changes in the pattern of self-selection. In particular, we demonstrate that, as the patterns of self-selection become more similar between males and females, gender differences become smaller and in many cases approach zero. In mathematics at least, it appears that the greatest differences to be found are between their choices of subject, and not in the achievement of comparable groups of males and females once they make their choices.