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# Female teachers’ math anxiety affects girls’ math achievement

## Abstract

People’s fear and anxiety about doing math—over and above actual math ability—can be an impediment to their math achievement. We show that when the math-anxious individuals are female elementary school teachers, their math anxiety carries negative consequences for the math achievement of their female students. Early elementary school teachers in the United States are almost exclusively female (>90%), and we provide evidence that these female teachers’ anxieties relate to girls’ math achievement via girls’ beliefs about who is good at math. First- and second-grade female teachers completed measures of math anxiety. The math achievement of the students in these teachers’ classrooms was also assessed. There was no relation between a teacher’s math anxiety and her students’ math achievement at the beginning of the school year. By the school year’s end, however, the more anxious teachers were about math, the more likely girls (but not boys) were to endorse the commonly held stereotype that “boys are good at math, and girls are good at reading” and the lower these girls’ math achievement. Indeed, by the end of the school year, girls who endorsed this stereotype had significantly worse math achievement than girls who did not and than boys overall. In early elementary school, where the teachers are almost all female, teachers’ math anxiety carries consequences for girls’ math achievement by influencing girls’ beliefs about who is good at math.

## Footnotes

^{1}To whom correspondence should be addressed at: Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, 5848 South University Avenue, Chicago, IL 60607. E-mail: beilock{at}uchicago.edu.Edited* by Edward E. Smith, Columbia University, New York, NY, and approved December 17, 2009 (received for review September 23, 2009)

Author contributions: S.L.B., E.A.G., G.R., and S.C.L. designed research; E.A.G. and G.R. performed research; S.L.B. and E.A.G. analyzed data; and S.L.B., E.A.G., G.R., and S.C.L. wrote the paper.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

↵*This Direct Submission article had a prearranged editor.

This article contains supporting information online at www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/0910967107/DCSupplemental.

^{†}Indeed, a 2000 survey of kindergarten through second-grade teachers in the United States revealed that while almost all teachers (93%) had taken college courses in mathematics education, far fewer had completed more advanced math courses such as probability and statistics (33%), geometry for elementary/middle school teachers (19%), and calculus (13%) (1).^{‡}Controlling for teachers’ math knowledge did not alter these results (see*SI Methods*for more detail).^{§}One might notice that this relation approached significance. Because it is unlikely that students are deliberately assigned to classrooms based on the teacher’s math anxiety, this relation likely occurred by chance. Nonetheless, to ensure that it was not influencing our end-of-year findings, we ran an alternate version of our mediation model controlling for girls’ beginning-of-year gender ability beliefs. Girls’ end-of-year beliefs significantly continued to mediate (or account for) the relation between teachers’ math anxiety and girls’ end-of-year math achievement (95% CI: −2.84 to −0.061;*P*< 0.05). In contrast, girls’ beginning-of-year gender ability beliefs were not a significant predictor (β = −0.02,*t*= −0.17,*P*= 0.862), suggesting that this factor was not driving our end-of-year mediation effects.^{‖}When controlling for beginning-of-year gender ability beliefs, the correlation between teachers’ math anxiety and girls’ end-of-year gender ability beliefs remained significant (*r*= 0.31,*P*= 0.012).^{‖}When teachers’ math anxiety was in the equation, their math knowledge was controlled, and when girls’ end-of-year math achievement was in the equation, their beginning-of-year math achievement was controlled.

- Sian L. Beilock
^{1}, - Elizabeth A. Gunderson,
- Gerardo Ramirez, and
- Susan C. Levine

## Abstract

People’s fear and anxiety about doing math—over and above actual math ability—can be an impediment to their math achievement. We show that when the math-anxious individuals are female elementary school teachers, their math anxiety carries negative consequences for the math achievement of their female students. Early elementary school teachers in the United States are almost exclusively female (>90%), and we provide evidence that these female teachers’ anxieties relate to girls’ math achievement via girls’ beliefs about who is good at math. First- and second-grade female teachers completed measures of math anxiety. The math achievement of the students in these teachers’ classrooms was also assessed. There was no relation between a teacher’s math anxiety and her students’ math achievement at the beginning of the school year. By the school year’s end, however, the more anxious teachers were about math, the more likely girls (but not boys) were to endorse the commonly held stereotype that “boys are good at math, and girls are good at reading” and the lower these girls’ math achievement. Indeed, by the end of the school year, girls who endorsed this stereotype had significantly worse math achievement than girls who did not and than boys overall. In early elementary school, where the teachers are almost all female, teachers’ math anxiety carries consequences for girls’ math achievement by influencing girls’ beliefs about who is good at math.

- education
- mathematics
- gender
- stereotype
- modeling

## Footnotes

^{1}To whom correspondence should be addressed at: Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, 5848 South University Avenue, Chicago, IL 60607. E-mail: beilock{at}uchicago.edu.Edited* by Edward E. Smith, Columbia University, New York, NY, and approved December 17, 2009 (received for review September 23, 2009)

Author contributions: S.L.B., E.A.G., G.R., and S.C.L. designed research; E.A.G. and G.R. performed research; S.L.B. and E.A.G. analyzed data; and S.L.B., E.A.G., G.R., and S.C.L. wrote the paper.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

↵*This Direct Submission article had a prearranged editor.

This article contains supporting information online at www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/0910967107/DCSupplemental.

^{†}Indeed, a 2000 survey of kindergarten through second-grade teachers in the United States revealed that while almost all teachers (93%) had taken college courses in mathematics education, far fewer had completed more advanced math courses such as probability and statistics (33%), geometry for elementary/middle school teachers (19%), and calculus (13%) (1).^{‡}Controlling for teachers’ math knowledge did not alter these results (see*SI Methods*for more detail).^{§}One might notice that this relation approached significance. Because it is unlikely that students are deliberately assigned to classrooms based on the teacher’s math anxiety, this relation likely occurred by chance. Nonetheless, to ensure that it was not influencing our end-of-year findings, we ran an alternate version of our mediation model controlling for girls’ beginning-of-year gender ability beliefs. Girls’ end-of-year beliefs significantly continued to mediate (or account for) the relation between teachers’ math anxiety and girls’ end-of-year math achievement (95% CI: −2.84 to −0.061;*P*< 0.05). In contrast, girls’ beginning-of-year gender ability beliefs were not a significant predictor (β = −0.02,*t*= −0.17,*P*= 0.862), suggesting that this factor was not driving our end-of-year mediation effects.^{‖}When controlling for beginning-of-year gender ability beliefs, the correlation between teachers’ math anxiety and girls’ end-of-year gender ability beliefs remained significant (*r*= 0.31,*P*= 0.012).^{‖}When teachers’ math anxiety was in the equation, their math knowledge was controlled, and when girls’ end-of-year math achievement was in the equation, their beginning-of-year math achievement was controlled.