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Gender differences in both tails of the distribution of numerical competencies in preschool children


Gender differences in mathematical achievement have been examined in a wide range of age groups but only a few studies addressed this issue in preschool children. We compared preschool girls (n = 570) and boys (n = 524) from Germany with regard to numerical competencies. Differences in overall group means and the frequency of representation at low, middle, or high levels of performance were explored for girls and boys. Analysis of overall group means revealed that boys showed a better performance than girls (d = .32). The analysis of frequencies showed differences in both tails but not in the middle of the distribution of numerical competencies. While boys were more often found at higher levels of performance, girls were found to be overrepresented in the low-ability end of the distribution. These findings demonstrate that gender differences in mathematical achievement can emerge before school entry and stress the importance of further research looking for gender divides in mathematical achievement in preschool children from different countries as well as possible underlying factors.

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  1. 1.

    The study served as a screening study for the project “Neurobehavioral Development of Reading and Arithmetic Skills–A Longitudinal Study” (ReAL) that is part of the research activities of the “Center for Individual Development and Adaptive Education” (IDeA) located in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

  2. 2.

    In Germany, 7-year old children can still attend kindergarten because a school entry deferment is possible.

  3. 3.

    As revealed by chi-square tests, the frequency of girls and boys in the respective months did not significantly differ (October: number of girls = 74, number of boys = 57, χ 2 (1) = 1.15, p = .284; November: number of girls = 125, number of boys = 140, χ 2 (1) = 3.41, p = .065; December: number of girls = 117, number of boys = 93, χ 2 (1) = 1.36, p = .244; February: number of girls = 36, number of boys = 35, χ 2 (1) = .06, p = .807; March: number of girls = 64, number of boys = 66, χ 2 (1) = .49, p = .485; April: number of girls = 74, number of boys = 82, χ 2 (1) = 1.59, p = .208; May: number of girls = 14, number of boys = 10, χ 2 (1) = .38, p = .537) except for January (number of girls = 66, number of boys = 41, χ 2 (1) = 4.36, p = .037).

  4. 4.

    Analyses of frequencies for the quantity-number task were also conducted using the 10th and the 90th as well as the 20th and the 80th percentile, which did not change the results substantially (see Appendix 1).


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This research was funded by the Hessian initiative for the development of scientific and economic excellence (LOEWE). We would like to thank all the participating children.

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Correspondence to Jan Lonnemann.


Appendix 1

Table 3 Comparison of the frequency (chi-square tests) with which girls and boys were represented at the bottom, in the middle, or at the top of the distribution using the 10th and the 90th as well as the 20th and the 80th percentile of the quantity-number task

Appendix 2

Table 4 Comparison of girls and boys (independent samples t tests) with respect to age, the quantity-number competencies, and the reasoning abilities separately for children below or equal to the mean age (312 girls and 234 boys) and children above the mean age (258 girls and 290 boys)

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Lonnemann, J., Linkersdörfer, J., Hasselhorn, M. et al. Gender differences in both tails of the distribution of numerical competencies in preschool children. Educ Stud Math 84, 201–208 (2013).

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  • Gender differences
  • Mathematical achievement
  • Preschool
  • Development