I am looking for a study or reference on gender in math problems given in mathematics.

In math texts or even on math exams, if there is a word problem involving people, these people or "characters" in the problem are given names and pronouns. For example, if a professor is in the problem, the professor might be male. If there is a high school teacher or a nurse, this person is given a female pronoun or name.

I am particularly interested in studies about how this affects women or minorities in the study of mathematics.

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    $\begingroup$ There is a paper in this general area comparing Mozambique textbooks to Australian textbooks; it can be found here (pdf). The linked piece makes many references to an earlier work of the second author, which I was not able to locate (and whose work I am not familiar with). There are also references to earlier work of Fennema (google scholar); this is certainly an author to whom you may wish to look in your search! $\endgroup$ – Benjamin Dickman May 3 '16 at 5:02
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! The first paper is the sort of references I am looking for. $\endgroup$ – Felix Y. May 3 '16 at 5:45
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    $\begingroup$ When I worked as an item writer, writing questions for standard exams, one company wouldn't allow any gender in the problems written. For example I might write about a telephone technician (not a repairman). Throughout the problem I was not allowed to use he or she, but had to repeatedly write the technician. This was annoying and unnatural. It would be interesting to know if there really is a value to avoiding natural language. $\endgroup$ – Amy B May 3 '16 at 11:24

To directly answer your question: here's an oft-cited work from 1999 that showed that the gender in the word problems can influence performance through stereotype threat (although it did not account for the entire achievement gap in gender): Walsh, M., Hickey, C., & Duffy, J. (1999). Influence of Item Content and Stereotype Situation on Gender Differences in Mathematical Problem Solving. Sex Roles, 41(3–4), 219–240. http://doi.org/10.1023/A:1018854212358

If you want to complexify the question and consider a less binary concept of gender: Indigo Esmonde's work would be a great starting point. Here's a paper to get you started: http://lib-ocs.lib.sfu.ca:8087/fedcan/index.php/csse2010/csse2010/paper/download/2645/673 which I think eventually became: Esmonde, I. (2011). SNIPS AND SNAILS AND PUPPY DOGS’TAILS: GENDERISM AND MATHEMATICS EDUCATION. For the Learning of Mathematics, 31(2), 27–31.

but the version I linked to above is longer and more comprehensive.

On a similar question: one might wonder if you should include queer culture and queer families in math problems, and here's one author who discusses what that might entail (as well as how to move beyond that approach): Rands, K. (2009). Mathematical Inqu[ee]ry: beyond “Add-Queers-and-Stir” elementary mathematics education. Sex Education, 9(2), 181–191. http://doi.org/10.1080/14681810902829646

From my own experience: I know for myself, when I write math problems for middle school students, when putting names and/or genders in the problems, I try to make a point of once in a while having boys do "girl things" and girls doing "boy things", not necessarily designing problems around that, but just being aware of it as I write the problems and occasionally switching it up a bit. I also occasionally when teaching math bring up social justice issues that are currently in the media and ask students to consider them mathematically, so that's another thing to think about - might, say, using math to tackle issues of gender equality have more of an impact in the classroom than just putting women in math problems...?

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    $\begingroup$ I also tried having examples that implied that characters can be with someone of the same gender, or if it is an example with choosing clothing, I may include an image of a dress along with pants and "male" clothing. When I did that example, a student commented, in jest, that for him, the dress wouldn't be a choice. Considering I teach at a midwestern college with 80% men, and many of the students are religious, I wonder how my students perceive these problems. $\endgroup$ – Felix Y. May 27 '16 at 17:27
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    $\begingroup$ I haven't received any negative comments on them. I do think your suggestion of using math problems to tackle gender equality problems is interesting, and something I should try. I think putting more women in problems, or at least balancing genders or keeping things neutral, might have an impact on women in seeing example characters in positions that are traditionally portrayed as being for men, but creating problems that might start a conversation, might get men to think about gender equality. $\endgroup$ – Felix Y. May 27 '16 at 17:27

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