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Publication #FAR7522

Moms Talk More to Boys about Math1

Carol Church2

Figure 1. 
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If you’ve recently had a chance to listen in on parents talking with their toddlers, you likely heard them pointing out animals, naming colors, and generally giving their children information about the world around them. There’s just so much to learn and know.

Counting with children and talking to them about numbers are certainly part of this process. However, new research indicates that parents may do more of this informal math teaching with toddler sons than with daughters long before starting to learn math in school. Researchers analyzed recorded conversations between 32 two year olds and their mothers, taking note of how many exchanges involved numbers and counting. On average, mothers talked about numerical concepts to boys twice as often as they did to girls (Chang, Sandhofer, & Brown, 2011).

In fact, many studies show that both children and adults tend to stereotypically assume that boys are better at math than girls, and that parents underestimate daughters’ abilities. Yet research proves that American girls today score just as well as boys on standardized math tests. Still, girls tend to lack confidence in their own mathematical abilities, and, in the long run, fewer of them pursue science and math careers. While there could be many reasons for these differences, research like this suggests that parents may contribute to these disparities by steering girls away from math, starting when children are very young. Though this study was small, it underlines the crucial importance of parents talking about the fascinating world of numbers with toddlers and children of both sexes (Chang, Sandhofer, & Brown, 2011).

Listening, learning and living together, it’s the science of life.  “Family Album” is a co-production of University of Florida IFAS Extension, the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, and of WUFT-FM. If you’d like to learn more, please visit our website at

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Chang, A., Sandhofer, C. M., & Brown, C. S. (2011). Gender biases in early number exposure to preschool-aged children. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 30(4), 440-450. doi: 10.1177/0261927X11416207.



This document is FAR7522, one of a series of the Family Youth and Community Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original broadcast date October 8, 2010, as program 1522. Published on EDIS March 2013. In the interest of time and/or clarity, the broadcast version of this script may have been modified. Visit the EDIS website at


Carol Church, writer, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.