Girls discouraged from STEM?

A 2015 Israeli study finds a relation between the gender gap in STEM jobs and environmental factors in elementary schools: the researchers explain in this study what the “unconscious discouragement is and how it affects girls discouraging them from STEM subjects (and jobs). 

A 2013 survey says that men are employed in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics occupations at twice the rate of women. So, there is still a considerable gender gap in academic outcomes and in employment in math and science fields.

Are men really better at STEM than women? Evidence based on recent researches shows that in most countries, girls outscore boys in reading while being outscored in math. This gap is shown to grow during early years of schooling.

Despite the number of surveys and studies performed on this, this debate is based on limited credible scientific evidence because it is difficult to disentangle the impact of biological gender dissimilarities from environmental conditions and also because it is difficult to measure stereotypes and prejudices and test their causal implications.

So, is this due to a real difference in attitudes and skills between men and women? In other words, what is the explanation for such gender disparities in cognitive performance and in math scores in particular?

A study published at the beginning of 2015 suggests that environmental factors could be much more influential on the ratio men-women in science than expected. The study investigates in particular the effect of gender bias in a schooling environment.

“Since this gap in math achievement partly results from teachers' stereotypical biases against girls in mathematics”, concludes the study, “eliminating these biases will go a long way toward reducing the math achievements gender gap, and it will also decrease the gender gap in enrolment in advanced math studies.”

 Read the study: “On The Origins of Gender Human Capital Gaps: Short and Long Term Consequences of Teachers' Stereotypical Biases


Interesting recent resources on the topic

Becker, G.S., W.H. Hubbard and K.M. Murphy, 2010, "Explaining the Worldwide Boom in Higher Education of Women", Journal of Human Capital 4, 203-241.

Björn, T.H., Höglin, E. and M. Johannesson, 2011, "Are boys discriminated in Swedish high schools?", Economics of Education Review 30(4), 682-690.

Cornwell, C., D. Mustard and J. Van Parys, 2013, "Non-cognitive Skills and Gender Disparities in Test Scores and Teacher Assessments: Evidence from Primary School", Journal of Human Resources, 48(1), 236-264.

Fryer, R.G. and S.D. Levitt, 2010, "An Empirical Analysis of the Gender Gap in Mathematics", American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 2, 210-240.

Hanna, R.N., and L.L., Linden, 2012, "Discrimination in Grading", American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 4(4), 146-68.

See the complete list in the References section of the study.

The surprising results is that elementary teachers could actually be part of the problem: the study suggests that teachers’ biases favouring boys have an asymmetric effect by gender, positive effect on boys’ achievements and negative effect on girls.

In the study, teachers graded the math tests of 11-year-olds and, on average, the scores were lower for girls. But, when different teachers graded the same tests anonymously, the girls performed far better (out-performing the boys in many cases.)

Dr. Edith Sand, one of the researchers, told American Friends of Tel Aviv University, that the issue wasn’t overt and obvious sexism, but “unconscious discouragement”: boys do well because teachers believe they will, girls don’t because teachers believe they won’t.