A study has finally dispelled the myth that boys are born better at maths than girls -- in fact, it claims that differences in examination results are down to "nurture" and not nature.
Researchers have long debated whether mathematical ability is the result of biological or social factors. Though girls tend to do better in maths classes, global studies have showed they're often outperformed by male classmates in tests.
Now, an international team has found that when women have equal access to education and other opportunities, the so-called "gender gap" in their test scores disappears.
"The so-called gender gap in maths skills seems to be at least partially correlated to environmental factors. The gap doesn't exist in countries in which men and women have access to similar opportunities," lead researcher Prof Paola Sapienza was quoted by 'The Daily Telegraph' as saying.
Prof Sapienza of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and colleagues came to the conclusion after looking at results of a standardised international exam taken by over 270,000 15-year-olds from 40 countries in 2003.
Girls scored on average two per cent less than boys but when the researchers compared the results with global standards on access to education and equality, they found they were closely linked.
In Britain, girls fared only slightly less well than male classmates, with female pupils scoring an average of 0.7 per cent less. In Scandanavian countries, there was almost no difference in test scores, and girls sometimes bettered boys.
However, in countries such as Turkey, girls tended to do worse than average, scoring four per cent less than boys. Not only did their average score of girls improve as their opportunities increased, the number of women achieving high scores also rose, the researchers found.
The study also found a "gender gap" in exam results for reading, but in this case it was girls who did better. "In more gender equal societies, girls gain an advantage," Prof Sapienza said.
The results of the study have been published in the latest edition of the 'Science' journal.