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Girls are more likely to attribute failure to lack of talent

We used international survey data from 500,000 students to show that genders attribute differently their failure to a lack of talent and argued that these differences reflect gender stereotypes about talent and relate to the glass ceiling. These differences are present in almost all of the 72 countries studied, and are stronger among high achieving students and in more developed countries

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by Clotilde Napp | Professor

Clotilde Napp is Professor at Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Université Paris-Dauphine, Paris Sciences et Lettres Research University, France.

Clotilde Napp is also an author of the original article

, Thomas Breda | Associate Professor

Thomas Breda is Associate Professor at Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris School of Economics, Paris, France.

Thomas Breda is also an author of the original article

Edited by

Dr. Kala Kaspar

Associate Editor

Views 2276
Reading time 3.5 min
published on Mar 15, 2023
Gender stereotypes and bias about talent or brilliance have been explored in the past, but usually in specific contexts or cultures. Our aim was to provide a multinational investigation of these stereotypes and to document how gender-talent stereotypes can be related to the glass ceiling. This new work has the advantage of relying on the 2018 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey encompassing 500,000 students in 72 countries. The PISA survey is answered by 15-year-old students in mathematics, reading, and science. It asks students the extent to which they agree with the sentence:

"When I am failing, I am afraid that I might not have enough talent." 

We revealed new evidence that adolescent girls are more likely than boys to attribute their failure to a lack of talent. This pattern was observed among students having similar abilities in math and reading. We observed that in 71 of the 72 countries studied, girls are more inclined to fear their failure is from a lack of talent. This finding implies that boys are likelier to blame external factors. 

Differences in how the genders view talent are more pronounced among higher-performing students compared to those of average performance. Indeed, gender stereotypes about talent are likely to concern primarily the former group.  While surprisingly, the differences are most pronounced in more developed and gender egalitarian nations. For instance, within mostly developed countries (nations belonging to the OECD), 61 percent of girls would fear a lack of talent, compared to 47 percent of boys--a difference of 14 percent. 

Such a gender-equality paradox has been observed before about gender gaps related to math. For example, boys are more likely than girls to study science and math, or to think they can succeed in math. These gaps are larger in more developed and gender egalitarian countries. As countries develop, gender norms do not disappear, but seem to reconfigure. In more developed and gender equal countries, girls are attributed more competence relative to boys than in less developed countries, but they are attributed less talent in terms of being ‘gifted’, ‘genius’ or ‘exceptional’. These countries also focus on individual success, and place a greater premium on the notion of raw, innate talent. 

We further show that there is a strong correlation across countries between the lower talent views of girls and gender differences in three other indicators that have been studied extensively in the past. These have particular relation to the existence of the glass ceiling, i.e., gender differences in self-confidence, competitiveness, and the choice of competitive male-dominated occupations. The more girls attribute their failure to lack of talent, the lower their self-confidence, competitiveness, and willingness to work in elite and male-dominated occupations. All would contribute to preventing them to access the highest positions in the labor market.

Our results suggest that it is important to consider gender stereotypes concerning talent. This would help to better understand several already documented differences between girls and boys and in particular the glass ceiling. Taken together, our findings suggest that the glass ceiling is unlikely to disappear simply as countries develop or become more gender-egalitarian. Putting emphasis on learning by trial and error would undoubtedly reduce these stereotypes and possibly with them, some forms of gender inequalities.
Original Article:
Napp, C., & Breda, T. (2022). The stereotype that girls lack talent: A worldwide investigation. Science Advances, 8(10). https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.abm3689

Edited by:

Dr. Kala Kaspar , Associate Editor

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