AAUW Issues: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education

A girl looks at a worksheet while working at a computer in school.

Photo by woodleywonderworks via flickr

The American Association of University Women supports promoting and strengthening science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, especially for girls and other underrepresented populations. These efforts will increase America’s competitiveness by reducing barriers that deter women from pursuing academic and career goals in these fields.

Workforce projections for 2018 show that nine of the 10 fastest-growing occupations that require at least a bachelor’s degree will require significant scientific or mathematical training. STEM jobs are expected to grow by 17 percent from 2008 to 2018, while non-STEM jobs are expected to grow by 9.8 percent. The supply of new workers in these fields is struggling to keep up with demand, and women remain severely underrepresented.

Additional AAUW Resources

Download Printable Quick Facts on STEM Education

Before Title IX, many opportunities to advance in STEM were denied to women, such as participation in some advanced courses and math and science clubs. Today, girls’ participation in STEM courses has increased. However, to meet the needs of the 21st century economy, we must increase girls’ interest in STEM and encourage more women to pursue STEM careers. Title IX remains and excellent tool to help us meet these goals.

The STEM Labor Market Needs Women

Although women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25 per-cent of STEM jobs. If women and members of other underrepresented groups joined the STEM workforce in proportion to their representation in the overall labor force, the STEM worker shortage would disappear.

Elementary and Secondary Education

Barriers to girls’ progress in STEM begin during their K-12 education, starting with the messages received in the schools. In a 2006 survey, 44 percent of girls and 38 percent of boys agreed with the statement, “the smartest girls in my school are not popular,” and 17 percent of girls and 14 percent of boys thought that it was true that “teachers think it is not important for girls to be good at math.”

Slow Progress in College

In 2009-2010, 57 percent of undergraduate degree recipients were women, up from 42 percent in 1970. Despite this incredible growth, women’s underrepresentation in STEM continues at four-year colleges. In 2008, women earned 43.9 percent of bachelor’s degrees in mathematics, 20.2 percent of physics degrees, 17.7 percent of computer science degrees, and 17.5 percent of engineering degrees.

Community colleges offer a range of STEM programs leading to associates degrees and certification, but women remain concentrated in programs for traditionally female occupations like nursing, education, and cosmetology. But, women are under-represented in programs for STEM training such as engineering, computer sciences, and mechanic technologies.

One way to improve this situation is to address challenges that cause girls and women to lose interest in STEM. AAUW has found that school climate plays a significant role in women’s decisions to stay in STEM studies. Stereotypes, gender bias, and the sometimes hostile climate of STEM departments continue to block women’s participation and progress.

STEM as a Step Toward Pay Equity

In general, women with a college degree earn more than women without one, and women with a college degree in STEM earn more than average. Women with STEM jobs earned 33 percent more than comparable women in non-STEM jobs – considerably higher than the STEM wage premium for men. As a result, the gender wage gap is smaller in STEM jobs than in non-STEM jobs.

Improving Opportunities in STEM

There are many ways to increase women’s and girls’ engagement in STEM:

  • Emphasize STEM skills in early education, K-12, and higher education.
  • Cultivate girls’ achievement by exposing them to female role models in STEM and encouraging high school girls to take calculus, physics, chemistry, computer science, and engineering classes.
  • Support teacher training to include recognition and avoidance of implicit gender bias, awareness of stereotype threat, techniques to improve spatial skills, and ways to promote a growth mindset in students.
  • Measure student achievement in STEM disaggregated and cross tabulated by gender.
  • Actively recruit women into STEM majors.
  • Use Title IX to improve school climates for women and girls.