Gender Gap in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM): Current Knowledge, Implications for Practice, Policy, and Future Directions
- 4.9k Downloads
Although the gender gap in math course-taking and performance has narrowed in recent decades, females continue to be underrepresented in math-intensive fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Career pathways encompass the ability to pursue a career as well as the motivation to employ that ability. Individual differences in cognitive capacity and motivation are also influenced by broader sociocultural factors. After reviewing research from the fields of psychology, sociology, economics, and education over the past 30 years, we summarize six explanations for US women’s underrepresentation in math-intensive STEM fields: (a) cognitive ability, (b) relative cognitive strengths, (c) occupational interests or preferences, (d) lifestyle values or work-family balance preferences, (e) field-specific ability beliefs, and (f) gender-related stereotypes and biases. We then describe the potential biological and sociocultural explanations for observed gender differences on cognitive and motivational factors and demonstrate the developmental period(s) during which each factor becomes most relevant. We then propose evidence-based recommendations for policy and practice to improve STEM diversity and recommendations for future research directions.
KeywordsGender gap STEM Career preference Lifestyle value Relative cognitive strength Motivation
This project was supported by Grant DRL1315943 from the National Science Foundation and Grant HD HD074731-01 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD).
- American Association of University Women Educational Foundation. (2008). Where the girls are: the facts about gender equity in education. Washington: Author.Google Scholar
- Diekman, A. B., Clark, E. K., Johnston, A. M., Brown, E. R., & Steinberg, M. (2011). Malleability in communal goals and beliefs influences attraction to STEM careers: evidence for a goal congruity perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101, 902–918. doi: 10.1037/a0025199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Dweck, C. S. (2002). The development of ability conceptions. In A. Wigfield & J. S. Eccles (Eds.), Development of achievement motivation. A volume in the educational psychology series: Vol. xvii, (pp. 57–88). San Diego, CA: Academic Press. doi: 10.1016/B978-012750053-9/50005-X.
- Eccles, J. S., Barber, B., & Jozefowicz, D. (1999). Linking gender to educational, occupational, and recreational choice: applying the Eccles et al. model of achievement-related choices. In J. T. Spence (Ed.), Sexism and stereotypes in modern society: the gender science of Janet Taylor Spence (pp. 153–191). Washington: APA. doi: 10.1037/10277-007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Ferriman, K., Lubinski, D., & Benbow, C. P. (2009). Work preferences, life values, and personal views of top math/science graduate students and the profoundly gifted: developmental changes and gender differences during emerging adulthood and parenthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97, 517–532. doi: 10.1037/a0016030.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Freund, A. M., Weiss, D., & Wiese, B. S. (2012). Graduating from high school: the role of gender-related attitude, attributes, and motives for a central transition in late adolescence. Switzerland: Department of Psychology, University of Zurich. doi: 10.1080/17405629.2013.772508. Unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar
- Friedel, J. M., Cortina, K. S., Turner, J. C., & Midgley, C. (2007). Achievement goals, efficacy beliefs and coping strategies in mathematics: the role of perceived parent and teacher goal emphases. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 32, 434–458. doi: 10.1016/j.cedpsych.2006.10.009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Hill, C., Corbett, C., & St. Rose, A. (2010). Why so few? Women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Washington: American Association of University Women.Google Scholar
- Kelleher, C., Pausch, R., & Kiesler, S. (2007). Storytelling alice motivates middle school girls to learn computer programming. Proceeding of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 1455-1464.Google Scholar
- Kena, G., Musu-Gillette, L., Robinson, J., Wang, X., Rathbun, A., Zhang, J., et al. (2015). The condition of education 2015 (NCES 2015–144). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch. Accessed 26 Aug 2015.
- Lohman, D. F., Gambrell, J., & Lakin, J. (2008). The commonality of extreme discrepancies in the ability profiles of academically gifted students. Psychology Science Quarterly, 50, 269–282.Google Scholar
- National Science Foundation. (2011). Women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in science and engineering: 2011. Arlington: National Science Foundation.Google Scholar
- Robinson, J. P., & Lubienski, S. T. (2011). The development of gender achievement gaps in mathematics and reading during elementary and middle school: examining direct cognitive assessments and teacher ratings. American Educational Research Journal, 48, 268–302. doi: 10.3102/0002831210372249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Sadik, A. (2008). Digital storytelling: A meaningful technology-integrated approach for engaged student learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 56, 487–506. doi: 10.1007/s11423-008-9091-8.
- Stecher, B. M., & Bohrnstedt, G. W. (Eds.). (2002). Class size reduction in California: findings from 1999-00 and 2000-01. Sacramento: California Department of Education.Google Scholar
- Stout, J. G., Dasgupta, N., Hunsinger, M., & McManus, M. A. (2011). STEMing the tide: using ingroup experts to inoculate women’s self-concept in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 255–270. doi: 10.1037/a0021385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2012). Higher education: gaps in access and persistence study. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2012/2012046/index.asp
- U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2014). Digest of education statistics. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/2014menu_tables.asp
- Valla, J., & Ceci, S. J. (2011). Can sex differences in science be tied to the long reach of prenatal hormones? Brain organization theory, digit ratio (2D/4D), and sex differences in preference and cognition. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6, 134–136. doi: 10.1177/174569161140023.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Wai, J., Lubinski, D., Benbow, C. P., & Steiger, J. H. (2010). Accomplishment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and its relation to STEM educational dose: a 25-year longitudinal study. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102, 860–871. doi: 10.1037/a0019454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Wai, J., Putallaz, M., & Makel, M. C. (2012). Studying intellectual outliers: Are there sex differences, and are the smart getting smarter? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21, 382–390. doi: 10.1177/0963721412455052.
- Wang, M. T., Degol, J. L., & Ye, F. (2015). Math achievement is important, but task values are critical too: Examining the intellectual and motivational factors leading to gender disparities in STEM careers. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1–9. doi: 10.3389/fpsyq.2015.00036.