Large study finds girls attribute failure to this stereotype, and it holds them back

Around the world, girls are more likely than boys to attribute school failure to a lack of talent, according to a large study on gender stereotypes published on Wednesday.

Paradoxically, the idea that men are inherently brighter was more entrenched in more egalitarian countries.

Such stereotypes have been explored in the past, but the new work, published in the journal Scientists progresshas the advantage of bringing together 500,000 students around the world, which makes it possible to compare countries.

It used data from the 2018 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a study conducted every three years to find out more about the knowledge and skills of 15-year-old students in math, reading and language. science.

The 2018 survey included the phrase: “When I fail, I’m afraid I don’t have enough talent.”

Result: in 71 of the 72 countries studied, even at equal performance, girls are more inclined to attribute their failures to a lack of talent than boys, who are more likely to blame external factors. The only exception was Saudi Arabia.

Contrary to what one might expect, the differences were more pronounced in rich countries.

In rich OECD countries, 61% of girls said they agreed with the statement, compared to 47% of boys, a difference of 14%.

In non-OECD countries, the gap was still there, but the difference was only 8%.

The difference was also greater among top performers compared to average performers.

Glass ceiling

“We have no perfect explanation” for this paradox, co-author of the study Thomas Breda, from the CNRS and the Paris School of Economics, told AFP.

But the apparent oddity has been observed before, for example in terms of self-confidence and boys being more likely to study science and math.

It shows, according to Breda, that “as countries develop, gender norms do not disappear, but are reconfigured”.

One hypothesis is that countries with more freedom ultimately leave more room for individuals to fall back into old stereotypes.

These countries are also very focused on individual success and thus attach greater importance to the very notion of talent.

In societies that don’t value talent as much, there’s less room for people to apply stereotypes.

The researchers further showed that there is a strong correlation between the idea of ​​being less talented and three other indicators studied in the framework of the PISA survey.

The less talented girls think they are compared to boys, the less self-confidence they have, the less they enjoy competition, and the less willing they are to work in male-dominated professions such as information and communication technology. communication.

The three indicators are often cited as reasons that may contribute to the existence of the glass ceiling preventing women from reaching the highest positions.

Taken together, the result “suggests that the glass ceiling is unlikely to disappear as countries develop or become more gender equal,” the authors said in the paper.

A proposed solution: “Stop thinking in terms of innate talent,” Breda said.

“Success comes from learning by trial and error. If we deconstruct the concept of pure talent, we will also deconstruct the idea that girls are less naturally talented than boys.”

© Agence France-Presse

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