Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

William E. Doll, Jr


In the last two decades a tremendous volume of research data has been collected about differences between female and male students in mathematics. But although the amount of data collected has been large, there have been few conscious attempts to understand this data in social, economic, technological, and political terms. This history of academic research on gender differences connects the explosion of academic interest in the 1970s and 1980s with the launch of Sputnik in 1957 and the sense of technological crisis that pervades mathematics education and popular consciousness. The emergence of "Women's Lib" and interest in gender equity in the 1960s and 1970s are also linked to the literature reviewed. Fundamental to the discourse on gender differences is the notion of equal ability, which is studied through use of variables such as participation, attainment, or achievement. Although no explicit treatment is given to ability in the mathematics education literature, questions about the abilities of females are latent in the research. The aim of such research, it is argued, is to prove that the abilities of females are identical to those of males. The author recommends that research questions be examined for hidden assumptions, primarily the assumption that females are not engaging in mathematical activity to the degree that men are. Assuming that women are mathematical leads to a different understanding of both the nature of difference and of mathematics, and raises numerous unanswered questions. For example, if women are mathematical, what is "women's mathematics"? This raises further questions about the nature of mathematical knowledge and mathematical certainty which are critical for the mathematics classroom. The role of intuition in mathematics is one critical classroom concept which is explored. The goal of research on gender difference, the author maintains, should not be to force females to pursue mathematics to the same level as males, but to develop new windows for examining mathematics teaching and learning, and to improve mathematics education. This will have benefits for all students in mathematics, those who are female as well as those who are not.