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Survey: Girls more likely than boys to think a lack of talent makes them fail

Teen girls are more likely to blame a lack of talent or intellect for school failures, which researchers say is a result of cultural gender norms, according to a new survey. File photo by PathDoc/Shutterstock
Teen girls are more likely to blame a lack of talent or intellect for school failures, which researchers say is a result of cultural gender norms, according to a new survey. File photo by PathDoc/Shutterstock

March 9 (UPI) -- Girls are more likely than boys to think that a lack of talent makes them fail in school, according to the results of a survey published Wednesday by the journal Science Advances.

In the survey of more than 500,000 students in 72 countries, including the United States, this was true even among girls who had similar academic performance as boys, the data showed.

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In nearly all of the countries included in the survey, there was a "gender-brilliance" stereotype that portrays men as more intelligent or more talented than women, the researchers said.

This stereotype may later hold women back in careers thought to require intelligence and could be related to gender differences in competitiveness, self-confidence and willingness to work in male-dominated occupations such as information and communication technology, they said.

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"This paper shows the existence of large and widespread gender gaps in attribution of failure to a lack of talent," wrote the researchers from Paris Dauphine University and the National Center for Scientific Research in France.

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"These gender gaps are linked to other well-known gender gaps at the country level and across students of different abilities, suggesting that self-selection patterns of girls away from competitive and prestigious careers may also be related to gender norms regarding talent," they said.

This may contribute to the so-called "glass ceiling," or cultural and social barriers that prevent women from advancing in certain professions, the researchers said.

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A study published last year found that children start developing ideas that science, technology, engineering and math courses are more fit for boys as young as six years old.

The new study is based on an analysis of responses to the 2018 Program for International Student Assessment, a survey that is conducted every three years to learn more about the knowledge and skills of 15-year-old students in math, reading and science, the researchers said.

The survey also measured student respondents' attitudes toward competition, self-confidence and future careers, according to the researchers.

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The 2018 survey asked respondents their level of agreement with the statement: "When I am failing, I am afraid that I might not have enough talent."

After analyzing responses to this question, there was evidence of the gender-brilliance stereotype's impact on girls' assessment of their talent, despite their academic performance, the researchers said.

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In 71 of 72 countries included in the survey, girls were more likely than boys to attribute their failure to a lack of talent, the data showed.

This stereotype was strongest in developed or more gender-egalitarian countries, and stronger among high-achieving students.

In the United States, for example, with women's progress toward workplace equality, "the beliefs that women are less intelligent and competent than men have weakened" but there remains a "focus on women's lower brilliance," they said.

In all countries, the stereotype that girls lack raw talent can explain some of the gender gaps in self-confidence, the researchers said.

"The evidence provided in the paper suggests ... that exposure to cultural stereotypes about girls' intellectual abilities and talent leads boys and girls to develop attitudes and preferences that they may not have had otherwise," the researchers wrote.

"In sending these messages, our culture may needlessly limit the behaviors, preferences, and career options that boys and girls consider," they said.

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