Book/Report Chapter

Do teachers and mothers overestimate boys’ and underestimate girls’ mathematics performance?

November 9, 2021
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In their report on the Leaving Certificate results and the standardisation process undertaken, the State Examinations Commission (2021) note that research suggests that unconscious estimation bias in such contexts are generally in the direction of favouring female students. Further, they state “knowing that such unconscious bias might come into play and that it would not be possible to address it during standardisation … the Department made strong efforts to mitigate such difficulties by means of the guidance offered to schools in both 2020 and 2021” (SEC, 2021, p.59). These assumptions of unconscious gender bias are problematic in a society where, despite girls’ superior educational achievements, they are under-represented in senior positions in most institutional structures. Our research, on estimations of mathematics performance for children in the mid-primary years, recently published in Oxford Review of Education (McCoy, Byrne, O’Connor, 2021) provides evidence of gender bias, but operating in favour of boys not girls.

It is widely accepted that mathematics is a gender marked subject in that achievements in the area are seen as indicative of boys’ ‘natural’ ability. Using data on 8,500 nine-year-old children from the Growing Up in Ireland study, our research examines whether primary caregivers and teachers are less likely to perceive girls’ mathematics achievements as excellent/above average than boys’, taking account of girls’ and boys’ actual performance on nationally validated standardised tests. The evidence reveals that teachers and mothers have lower assessments of girls’ performance, taking account of their mathematics achievement, school engagement, liking for mathematics, self-concept and their economic, educational and cultural background.  Gender stereotypes are used as an explanatory concept to understand the over-estimation of boys’ mathematics performance and the under-estimation of girls’ performance.

Pat O'Connor
Research Area(s)

Publication Details


UCD Geary Institute for Public Policy

Date of Publication

November 9, 2021

ESRI Series

Book/Report Chapter 202105