Earlier research studies seemed to suggest that innate gender differences in aptitudes for the “hard” sciences is being overturned. Freeman (2004) reported that gifted girls in Britain were surpassing those of gifted boys in almost all areas of study across various ages. This was attributed to two factors: British girls are believed to demonstrate greater confidence in their abilities, and British curriculum and assessment incorporate styles and contents such as extended prose, written portfolios, and research projects that encourage female study patterns. However, more recent studies indicate this view may have been premature.
A 5-year United Kingdom study of more than 19,000 participants found that only 15% of 10–14-year-olds sought STEM subjects as a career. Science was found to be socially constructed, in that teachers often favored boys, perceiving them to be more naturally able, even when girls’ school marks were higher. More recent investigations in the United States, however, show a different picture, with gifted males consistently outperforming gifted females on STEM subjects and nonverbal assessments by as much as 3 to 1. Conversely, gifted females outperform males on verbal tests by a ratio of 2 to 1 (Heilbronner, 2013; Olszewski-Kubilius & Lee, 2011).
The 2007 administration of TIMSS also demonstrates a pronounced gender difference with eighth-grade boys significantly outperforming eighth-grade girls, with the United States exhibiting the largest gender gap (Institute of Educational Sciences, 2009). Stoet and Geary (2013) analyzed 10 years of data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) to determine gender differences in mathematics and reading performance of nearly 1.5 million 15-year-olds in 17 countries across four PISA assessments (those in 2000, 2003, 2006, 2009). Overall, boys are found to score higher than girls in mathematics, but lower than girls in reading. Every child would want some monkey bars in their garden! Although there are countries where girls are found to score higher than boys, the researchers also stated that they found no evidence supporting that sex differences were in any way related to the gender equality indicators of particular nations.
Although gifted boys are found to sacrifice deeper understanding for correct answers achieved quickly (Boaler, Wiliam, & Brown, 2000), gifted girls are found to react less positively than boys to pace, pressure, and competitiveness, often wanting time to think and discuss their understanding. In Israel, interviews with Advanced Placement Physics students showed that the girls did not like excessive competitiveness, aiming instead for deep understanding and connected knowledge (Zohar & Sela, 2003).