Gender differences in mathematics performance: a meta-analysis

Psychol Bull. 1990 Mar;107(2):139-55. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.107.2.139.


Reviewers have consistently concluded that males perform better on mathematics tests than females do. To make a refined assessment of the magnitude of gender differences in mathematics performance, we performed a meta-analysis of 100 studies. They yielded 254 independent effect sizes, representing the testing of 3,175,188 Ss. Averaged over all effect sizes based on samples of the general population, d was -0.05, indicating that females outperformed males by only a negligible amount. For computation, d was -0.14 (the negative value indicating superior performance by females). For understanding of mathematical concepts, d was -0.03; for complex problem solving, d was 0.08. An examination of age trends indicated that girls showed a slight superiority in computation in elementary school and middle school. There were no gender differences in problem solving in elementary or middle school; differences favoring men emerged in high school (d = 0.29) and in college (d = 0.32). Gender differences were smallest and actually favored females in samples of the general population, grew larger with increasingly selective samples, and were largest for highly selected samples and samples of highly precocious persons. The magnitude of the gender difference has declined over the years; for studies published in 1973 or earlier d was 0.31, whereas it was 0.14 for studies published in 1974 or later. We conclude that gender differences in mathematics performance are small. Nonetheless, the lower performance of women in problem solving that is evident in high school requires attention.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aptitude*
  • Female
  • Gender Identity*
  • Humans
  • Identification, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Mathematics*
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Problem Solving*