Are Women Just Not Interested?

April 29, 2011

Each month this year, AAUW is teaming up with Nature Publishing Group, one of the world’s leading science publishers, to put together an online forum on women in science. The AAUW posts highlight findings from our 2010 research report, Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, now in its third printing.

From early adolescence, fewer girls than boys express interest in pursuing science or engineering. In a 2009 poll of young people ages 8–17, 24 percent of boys but only 5 percent of girls said they were interested in an engineering career.

Even girls and women who excel in mathematics often do not pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. In studies of high achievers in mathematics, for example, women are more likely to pursue degrees in the humanities, life sciences, and social sciences than in math, computer science, engineering, or the physical sciences. The reverse is true for men. Interest in an occupation is influenced by many factors, including a belief in one’s ability to succeed in that occupation, culturally prescribed gender roles, and values.

Gender differences in confidence in STEM subjects begin in middle school, when girls report less self-confidence than boys do in their math and science ability. Likewise, children — and girls especially — develop beliefs that they cannot pursue particular occupations because they perceive them as inappropriate for their gender. And well-documented gender differences exist in the value that women and men place on doing work that contributes to society, with women more likely than men to prefer work with a clear social purpose. Since most people do not view STEM occupations as directly benefiting society or individuals, STEM careers often do not appeal to women (or men) who place a high value on making a social contribution.

Certain STEM disciplines with a clearer social purpose, such as biology, biomedical engineering, and environmental engineering, have succeeded in attracting higher percentages of women than other fields like physics or mechanical engineering. And projects emphasizing the socially beneficial aspects of engineering like www.engineeryourlife.org have been shown to increase high school girls’ interest in pursuing engineering as a career.

What do you think affects girls’ and women’s interest in STEM fields?

By:   |   April 29, 2011

4 Comments

  1. smg13 says:

    I’m not sure what exactly affects the majority of girls’ and women’s interest in STEM fields, but I can speak for myself. For me what has made the difference is great STEM professors of both genders throughout middle school and high school. What has made an enormous difference is support from women in STEM fields who themselves have earned a PhD and encourage other female students to do so as well. I am currently a female Mathematics major interested in pursuing a PhD in Operations Research/Operations Management.

  2. Selena says:

    How about publicizing this more to women who ARE interested? I’m a scientist and I’ve been a science blogger for years and am plugged in all over the net, and I’ve already missed the April chat. If I’ve missed it, I guarantee a huge portion of your target audience has no clue this is going on. Are you actively recruiting women in science to be part of this?

  3. Jackie Littleton says:

    My personal story may be way out of date, since science wasn’t even offered in “grade” school or “junior high” when I was growing up.
    I lived near a woods and grew up knowing every plant and animal there. I saw Monarch butterflies cover every square inch of the property on their migration; I followed a “wounded” bird as she drew me away from her nest, but knew where to go back and find her eggs; I wrote detailed journals about the caterpillers I found. My favorite authors wrote animal studies. But, when asked if I wanted to take biology in high school, I said “no”. I didn’t know that what I loved was “science” (and, besides, all I knew about the course was that we had to cut up a cat.)
    Are we still failing to help girls connect what they love with “math” and “science?”

  4. [...] at math than females. Of course, such bias exists around the globe including the States. A 2009 study by American Society for Quality (ASQ) showed, only five percent of girls ages 8-17 expressed [...]

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