New evidence shows that not enough women are studying science, technology, education, and math (STEM), and it’s not because they don’t have the skills.
A large study of students from Poland suggests that even when women math students have abilities as high or higher than their male peers, they still shy away from studying math at higher levels.
Researchers from the University of Bialystok and the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw published the study in the June 2019 edition of the Journal of Sex Roles. The team analyzed data from 261,132 students who took a basic math exam as part of university admission. They then compared men’s and women’s scores with their decision to take another test to receive admissions into certain technical programs and institutions.
“STEM majors are more likely to be losing mathematically gifted women than mathematically gifted men,” researchers wrote in the study.
Large study by Zawistowska & Sadowski demonstrates why the low probability of women entering university STEM majors in Poland is due not to math talent but "non-cognitive and institutional causes" https://t.co/zrODPma1gh@STEMWomen— Lise Eliot (@Lise_Eliot) May 5, 2019
At first, researchers guessed women with higher scores in the basic math exam would choose to take the higher level test despite potential apprehensions. In reality, societal norms in Poland, and school environments that didn’t push women to study STEM, discouraged them from moving forward within the male-dominated field.
These findings are on trend with global statistics on women in STEM. Female high school students are significantly less likely than their male counterparts to have plans to pursue a college major or career in STEM (15% vs. 44%). United Institute for Statistics reported less than 30% of the world’s researchers working in science are women.
Lack of confidence is a major factor for many young girls and women who don’t pursue math and sciences. To support more women in STEM, experts recommend fostering interests in math and science in girls from a young age, and providing role models with STEM mentors.