Stereotypes About Math

Picture someone who is good at math. What do they look like to you? Are there certain groups of people who society considers “good” at math? What about people who are “bad” at math?

The general thought in the United States is that math isn’t for everyone. This idea persists in our culture even though math skills are part of our daily activities. You use math in everything from paying for groceries to following a recipe to parallel parking your car. And yet, adults associate math more with men than they do with women. How do these gender stereotypes develop?

This module is part of a series on early math development. The other modules focus on early math learning in younger children, but research on math stereotypes usually looks at children in elementary school and older. And even though we discuss elementary school children in this module, there are implications for preschoolers, too. Research shows that stereotypes begin forming early. So we want caregivers to help counter these stereotypes in the first years of life before children reach 1st grade.

  • Math-gender stereotype
    a belief that math is for a particular gender, such as girls or boys
    Math self-concept
    the association between the self and math
    refers to how someone thinks about their self and their attributes