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Exploring the links between gender, numeracy and social mobility

24 Jul 2023

A new National Numeracy research briefing takes a deep dive into the issue of the numeracy gender divide.

Read the research briefing

Image of women sat around table

Combatting negative gender stereotypes about numeracy 

All too often women face negative stereotypes suggesting that they are not ‘good with numbers’. Our new research briefing shows that women tend to have lower number confidence than men and this has far reaching consequences that must be addressed.

Low numeracy, whether low numeracy skills and/or number confidence, can have wide-ranging negative effects on work and personal life. For some women, this means not engaging with jobs or learning that involve some kind of maths assessment or component, which in practice blocks their entry to many careers and whole sectors of employment. 

National Numeracy actively supports people to improve their number confidence and skills, not least through the National Numeracy Challenge online tool. 

In 2022, over 1,000 users of this tool were surveyed as part of our Number Confidence and Social Mobility research report, which was published in April 2023 and supported by our partner Capital One.

This new briefing paper specifically focuses on insights from the report on women’s number confidence and the role this has played in their work and learning journeys, which in turn has profound implications for supporting social mobility.

This research briefing offers a number of recommendations, including:

  • Women and girls need to feel inspired and included in numeracy at every stage of the lifelong learning journey. 
  • There must be open acknowledgement and increased awareness of the gender barriers and a positive culture around maths should be supported by an expanded evidence base of what would make maths work for women and girls. 
  • Government should ensure this evidence is taken into account in future education plans for both children and adults.
cover the the research briefing

Webinar on gender, numeracy and social mobility

To coincide with the new research briefing, National Numeracy hosted a webinar called Gender, Numeracy and Social Mobility on 20 July where a panel discussed the report’s findings – in particular that women typically have lower numeracy confidence than men – looked in detail at the data, answered questions from participants, and suggested what could be done to address the issues raised.

What the panel said:

Lucy-Marie Hagues, UK CEO, Capital One, Member of the Government’s Expert Advisory Group on Maths to 18 and Member of the National Numeracy Leadership Council, said: “I would like us to get to a point where we say: ‘Maths is not something you’re good at, maths is something we all work at all the time.’ 

“We should be setting that example. We should be sat at the table, struggling with something in front of our kids. We should be looking it up to see how you might go about doing it. 

“We should be using the National Numeracy tools that are there to help us and showing all the time that this is something that’s fun and enjoyable and that actually, the process of working through it is the thing that matters, not being quickest to the right answer or getting it right first time.”

Tammy Fevrier, Deputy Director, Youth and Skills, Department for Work and Pensions, Member of the National Numeracy Leadership Council, said: “Confidence and motivation are absolutely at the core of this. We will wait, as a gender, in the main, before we can tick every single box on that job application before we’ll actually go for it, as opposed to just giving it a go. 

“I think it’s up to us as supporters of girls and women to say: ‘It’s OK not to have everything perfect and have all the answers. Giving it a go and participating is good enough and it will get you there. Just trust in yourself.’”

Sam Sims, National Numeracy Chief Executive, said: “National Numeracy’s experience over the past 11 years has revealed that building confidence with numbers and the belief that we can all improve our skills is key to addressing the issue of low numeracy.

“The research revealed fresh insight into the power of improving number confidence as well as the rich and varied ways it can positively impact upon people’s lives, particularly when it comes to things like work opportunities and broader learning outcomes. It also revealed a yawning gap in number confidence between women and men.”

Paul Foss, National Numeracy Head of Impact and Evaluation, said: “From our regular national surveys, more women than men describe themselves as ‘not a numbers person’ and women are more likely to say that maths and numbers make them feel anxious. Wherever we look the differences are marked, they’re statistically significant and they’re omnipresent.”

Watch the webinar below:

Our series of research briefings and webinars on numeracy and social mobility

National Numeracy published two more research briefings, each with its own launch webinar recording.

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