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STEREOTYPE THREAT, GENDER, AND MATH PERFORMANCE



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STEREOTYPE THREAT GENDER AND MATH PERFORMANCE EVIDENCE FROM THE NATIONAL ASSESSMENT OF EDUCATIONAL PROGRESS Current Draft September 15 2009 1 First Draft January 11 2008 Thomas E Wei Harvard University Abstract Stereotype threat posits that when individuals are primed about a fixed characteristic of theirs that is negatively stereotyped in relation to a task i e girls cannot do math subsequent performance on the task is adversely affected A limitation of most stereotype threat studies is that they have been based upon small and non representative samples in lab settings raising concerns about their external validity I use micro data from the 1978 to 1999 National Assessment of Educational Progress NAEP a large and representative field assessment of 9 13 and 17 year old U S children where through a design quirk students are randomly assigned to test blocks some of which include gender prime questions while others do not I exploit this natural experiment by comparing the gender gap in math test scores of students receiving gender primes to those with placebo questions I find little evidence of negative stereotype threat and strong evidence of stereotype reactance with girls performing better relative to boys for some gender primes The impact of gender primes on math test performance appears to be sensitive to the exact phrasing used in the primes 1 Comments welcome and can be directed to twei fas harvard edu I thank Joan Stoeckel from the Educational Testing Service for valuable assistance regarding the NAEP data as well as Susan Dynarski Richard Freeman Brian Jacob Lawrence Katz Todd Pittinsky and seminar participants at Harvard for their support and invaluable comments on earlier drafts All remaining errors are my own Research in psychology and behavioral economics emphasizes the importance of salience on actions and judgments cf Kahneman and Tversky 1984 For instance recency bias posits that because of mental availability individuals overestimate the probability of



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