Skip to main content

QUANTIFYING THE GENDER GAP IN SCIENCE INTERESTS

ABSTRACT

Nearly 5,000 self-generated science-related K–12 students’ questions, classified into seven science subjects, were used to quantitatively measure the gender gap in science interests and its change with age. In this data set, a difference between boys’ and girls’ science interests did not exist during early childhood, but increased over 20-fold by the end of high school. Furthermore, the gap widened in a stereotypical manner, with girls being increasingly interested in biology and boys more interested in physics and technology. This method could be applied for identifying and comparing the gender gap in science interests between different populations based on different data sources.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

REFERENCES

  1. Aguiar, O. G., Mortimer, E. F., & Scott, P. (2009). Learning from and responding to students’ questions: The authoritative and dialogic tension. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47, 174–193. doi:10.1002/tea.20315.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Ainley, M., Hidi, S., & Berndorff, D. (2002). Interest, learning, and the psychological processes that mediate their relationship. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94(3), 545–561.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Baram-Tsabari, A., & Kaadni, A. (2009). Gender dependency and cultural independency of science interest in an open distant science learning environment. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(2).

  4. Baram-Tsabari, A., & Segev, E. (2009). Exploring new web-based tools to identify public interest in science. Public Understanding of Science. doi:10.1177/0963662509346496.

  5. Baram-Tsabari, A., Sethi, R. J., Bry, L., & Yarden, A. (2006). Using questions sent to an Ask-A-Scientist site to identify children’s interests in science. Science Education, 90(6), 1050–1072.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Baram-Tsabari, A., Sethi, R. J., Bry, L., & Yarden, A. (2009). Asking scientists: A decade of questions analyzed by age, gender and country. Science Education, 93(1), 131–160.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Baram-Tsabari, A., & Yarden, A. (2005). Characterizing children’s spontaneous interests in science and technology. International Journal of Science Education, 27(7), 803–826.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Baram-Tsabari, A., & Yarden, A. (2007). Interest in biology: A developmental shift characterized using self-generated questions. The American Biology Teacher, 69(9), 546–554.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Baram-Tsabari, A., & Yarden, A. (2008). Girls’ biology, boys’ physics: Evidence from free-choice science learning settings. Research in Science and Technological Education, 26(1), 75–92.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Baram-Tsabari, A., & Yarden, A. (2009). Identifying meta-clusters of students’ interest in science and their change with age. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 46(9), 999–1022

    Google Scholar 

  11. Baron-Cohen, S. (2003). The essential difference: Men, women and the extreme male brain. London: Penguin Books.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Barres, B. A. (2006). Does gender matter? Nature, 442, 133–136.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Biddulph, F., Symington, D., & Osborne, J. (1986). The place of children’s questions in primary science education. Research in Science & Technological Education, 4(1), 77–88.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Biological Sciences Curriculum Study [BSCS] (1993). Developing biological literacy: A guide to developing secondary and post-secondary biology curricula (B. S. C. Study, Trans.). Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Bloom, B. S., Engelhart, M. D., Furst, E. J., Hill, W. H., & Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals, vol. 1, 19th edn. New York: David McKay.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Brill, G., & Yarden, A. (2003). Learning biology through research papers: A stimulus for question-asking by high-school students. Cell Biology Education, 2, 266–274.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Britner, S. L. (2008). Motivation in high school science students: A comparison of gender differences in life, physical, and earth science classes. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45(8), 955–970.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Burkam, D. T., Lee, V. E., & Smerdon, B. A. (1997). Gender and science learning early in high school: Subject matter and laboratory experiences American Educational Research Journal, 34(2), 297–331.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Busch, H. (2005). Is science education relevant? Europhysics News, 36(5), 162–167.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Cakmakci, G., Sevindik, H., Pektas, M., Uysal, A., Kole, F., & Kavak, G. (2009). Investigating students’ interests in science by using their self-generated questions. Paper presented at the European Science Education Research Association, Istanbul, Turkey, Aug 31–Sept 4.

  21. Calabrese Barton, A., Tan, E., & Rivet, A. E. (2008). Creating hybrid spaces for engaging school science among urban middle school girls. American Educational Research Journal, 45(1), 68–103.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Caspi, A., Chajut, E., & Saporta, K. (2008). Participation in class and in online discussions: Gender differences. Computers and Education, 50(3), 718–724.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Charles, M., & Bradley, K. (2009). Indulging our gendered selves? Sex segregation by field of study in 44 countries. American Journal of Sociology, 114(4), 924–976.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Chin, C., & Osborne, J. (2008). Students’ questions: A potential resource for teaching and learning science. Studies in Science Education, 44(1), 1–39.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Christidou, V. (2006). Greek students’ science-related interests and experiences: Gender differences and correlations. International Journal of Science Education, 28(10), 1181–1199.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Couper, M. P. (2000). Web surveys: A review of issues and approaches. Public Opinion Quarterly, 64(4), 464–494.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Dawson, C. (2000). Upper primary boys’ and girls’ interests in science: Have they changed since 1980? International Journal of Science Education, 22(6), 557–570.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Deci, E. L., Vallerand, R. J., Pelletier, L. G., & Ryan, R. M. (1991). Motivation and education: The self-determination perspective. Educational Psychologist, 26, 325–346.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Dillon, J. T. (1988). The remedial status of student questioning. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 20(3), 197–210.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Eccles, J. S. (1994). Understanding women’s educational and occupational choices. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 18, 585–609.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Falchetti, E., Caravita, S., & Sperduti, A. (2007). What do layperson want to know from scientists? An analysis of a dialogue between scientists and laypersons on the web site Scienzaonline. Public Understanding of Science, 16(4), 489–506.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Farenga, S. J., & Joyce, B. A. (1999). Intentions of young students to enroll in science courses in the future: An examination of gender differences. Science Education, 83(1), 55–75.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Flammer, A. (1981). Towards a theory of question asking. Psychology Research, 43, 407–420.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Friedler, Y., & Tamir, P. (1990). Sex differences in science education in Israel: An analysis of 15 years of research. Research in Science and Technological Education, 8(1), 21–34.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Gardner, P. L. (1998). The development of males’ and females’ interests in science and technology. In L. Hoffmann, A. K. Krapp, A. Renninger & J. Baumert (Eds.), Proceedings of the Seeon Conference on Interest and Gender (pp. 41–57). Kiel: IPN.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Gardner, P. L., Penna, C., & Brass, K. (1996). Technology education in the post-compulsory years. In P. J. Fensham (Ed.), Science and technology education in the post compulsory years (pp. 140–192). Melbourne: ACER.

    Google Scholar 

  37. George, R. (2006). A cross-domain analysis of change in students’ attitudes toward science and attitudes about the utility of science. International Journal of Science Education, 28(6), 571–589.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Greenfield, T. A. (1998). Gender- and grade-level differences in science interest and participation. Science Education, 81(3), 259–276.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Gross, M. (2001). Imposed information seeking in public libraries and school library media centres: A common behaviour? Information Research, 6(2). Retrieved from http://InformationR.net/ir/6-2/paper100.html.

  40. Guiso, L., Monte, F., Sapienza, P., & Zingales, L. (2008). Culture, gender, and math. Science, 320, 1164–1165.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Handelsman, J., Cantor, N., Carnes, M., Denton, D., Fine, E., Grosz, B., Hinshaw, V., et al. (2005). More women in science. Science, 309, 1190–1191

    Google Scholar 

  42. Haworth, C., Dale, P., & Plomin, R. (2008). A twin study into the genetic and environmental influences on academic performance in science in nine-year-old boys and girls. International Journal of Science Education, 30(8), 1003–1025.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Hewlett, S. A., Luce, C. B., & Servon, L. J. (2008). Stopping the exodus of women in science. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from http://hbr.harvardbusiness.org/2008/06/stopping-the-exodus-of-women-in-science/ar/1.

  44. Hoffmann, L. (2002). Promoting girls’ interest and achievement in physics classes for beginners. Learning and Instruction, 12, 447–465.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Israeli National Institute for Evaluation in Education (2007). Primary findings from PISA 2006 (in Hebrew). Retrieved April 17, 2008, from http://rama.education.gov.il.

  46. Jackson, L., Ervin, K., Gardner, P., & Schmitt, N. (2001). Gender and the internet: Women communicating and men searching. Sex Roles, 44(5–6), 363–379.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Jenkins, E. W., & Nelson, N. W. (2005). Important but not for me: Students’ attitudes towards secondary school science in England. Research in Science & Technological Education, 23(1), 41–57.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Jones, M. G., Howe, A., & Rua, M. J. (2000). Gender differences in students’ experiences, interests, and attitudes toward science and scientists. Science Education, 84(2), 180–192.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Kahle, J. B., & Lakes, M. K. (1983). The myth of equality in science classrooms. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 20(2), 131–140.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Kahle, J. B., Parker, L. H., Rennie, L. J., & Riley, D. (1993). Gender differences in science education: Building a model. Educational Psychologist, 28(4), 379–404.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Kelly, A. (1978). Girls and science: An international study of sex differences in school science achievement, vol. 9. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Krapp, A. (2000). Interest and human development during adolescence: An educational–psychological approach. In J. Heckhausen (Ed.), Motivational psychology of human development (pp. 109–128). London: Elsevier.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Lagesen, V. A. (2008). A cyberfeminist utopia? Science, Technology & Human Values, 33(1), 5–27.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Lavonen, J., Juuti, K., Uitto, A., Meisalo, V., & Byman, R. (2005). Attractiveness of science education in the Finnish comprehensive school. In A. Manninen, K. Miettinen & K. Kiviniemi (Eds.), Research findings on young people’s perceptions of technology and science education (pp. 5–30). Helsinki: Technology Industries of Finland.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Lederman, N. G. (1992). Students’ and teachers’ conceptions of the nature of science: A review of the research. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 29(4), 331–359.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Lemish, D., & Ribak, R. (2007). Israeli children go-on-line. Retrieved January 29, 2008, from www.lse.ac.uk/collections/EUKidsOnline/IsraeliChildrenGo-On-lineBrussels07.ppt.

  57. Linn, M. C., & Hyde, J. S. (1989). Gender, mathematics, and science. Educational Researcher, 18(8), 17–19, 22–27.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Lubinski, D. S., & Benbow, C. P. (2007). Sex differences in personal attributes for the development of scientific expertise. In S. J. Ceci & W. M. Williams (Eds.), Why aren’t more women in science: Top researchers debate the evidence (pp. 79–100). Washington: American Psychological Association.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Lyons, T. (2006). Different countries, same science classes: Students’ experiences of school science in their own words. International Journal of Science Education, 28(6), 591–613.

    Google Scholar 

  60. Miller, P. H., Slawinski Blessing, J., & Schwartz, S. (2006). Gender differences in high-school students’ views about science. International Journal of Science Education, 28(4), 363–381.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Ministry of Communication (2006). Telecommunications in Israel 2008. Retrieved from http://www.moc.gov.il/sip_storage/FILES/5/605.pdf.

  62. Mullis, V. S., Martin, M. O., Fierros, E. G., Goldberg, A. L., & Stemler, S. E. (2000). Gender differences in achievement. Chestnut: TIMSS International Study Center.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Murphy, P., & Whitelegg, E. (2006). Girls in the physics classroom: A review of the research into the participation of girls in physics. London: Institute of Physics.

    Google Scholar 

  64. National Center for Education Statistics (2005). Internet access in U.S. public schools and classrooms: 1994–2003. Washington: U.S. Department of Education.

    Google Scholar 

  65. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD]. (2006). Evolution of student interest in science and technology studies: Policy report. Paris: OECD.

    Google Scholar 

  66. Osborne, J., & Collins, S. (2000). Pupils’ and parents’ views of the school science curriculum. London: King’s College London.

    Google Scholar 

  67. Osborne, J., & Collins, S. (2001). Pupils’ views of the role and value of the science curriculum: A focus group study. International Journal of Science Education, 23(5), 441–467.

    Google Scholar 

  68. Osborne, J., & Dillon, J. (2008). Science education in Europe: Critical reflections. London: Nuffield Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Osborne, J., Simon, S., & Collins, S. (2003). Attitudes towards science: A review of the literature and its implications. International Journal of Science Education, 25(9), 1049–1079.

    Google Scholar 

  70. Osborne, J., Simon, S., & Tytler, R. (2009). Attitudes towards school science: An update. Paper presented at the European Science Education Research Association, Istanbul, Turkey, Aug 31–Sept 4.

  71. Papastergiou, M. (2008). Are computer science and information technology still masculine fields? High school students’ perceptions and career choices. Computers & Education, 51(2), 594–608.

    Google Scholar 

  72. Patrick, H., Mantzicopoulos, P., & Samarapungavan, A. (2009). Motivation for learning science in kindergarten: Is there a gender gap and does integrated inquiry and literacy instruction make a difference. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 46(2), 166–191.

    Google Scholar 

  73. Pedrosa de Jesus, H., Teixeira-Dias, J. J. C., & Watts, M. (2003). Questions of chemistry. International Journal of Science Education, 25(8), 1015–1034.

    Google Scholar 

  74. Pintrich, P. R., & Schunk, D. H. (2002). Motivation in education: Theory, research, and applications (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River: Merrill.

    Google Scholar 

  75. Qualter, A. (1993). I would like to know more about that: A study of the interest shown by girls and boys in scientific topics. International Journal of Science Education, 15(3), 307–317.

    Google Scholar 

  76. Rainie, L., & Hitlin, P. (2005). The internet at school. Retrieved June 4, 2007, from http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Internet_and_schools_05.pdf.

  77. Rop, C. J. (2003). Spontaneous inquiry questions in high school chemistry classrooms: Perceptions of a group of motivated learners. International Journal of Science Education, 25(1), 13–33.

    Google Scholar 

  78. Roth, W.-M. (2008). Bricolage, métissage, hybridity, heterogeneity, diaspora: Concepts for thinking science education in the 21st century. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 3(4), 891–916.

    Google Scholar 

  79. Scantlebury, K., Baker, D., Sugi, A., Yoshida, A., & Uysal, S. (2007). Avoiding the issue of gender in Japanese science education. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 5(3), 415–438.

    Google Scholar 

  80. Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (1992). Text-based and knowledge-based questioning by children. Cognition and Instruction, 9(3), 177–199.

    Google Scholar 

  81. Schreiner, C. (2006). Exploring a ROSE-garden: Norwegian youth’s orientations towards science—Seen as signs of late modern identities. Doctoral thesis, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway.

  82. Shakeshaft, C. (1995). Reforming science education to include girls. Theory Into Practice, 34(1), 74–79.

    Google Scholar 

  83. Shemesh, M. (1990). Gender-related differences in reasoning skills and learning interests of junior high school students. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 27(1), 27–34.

    Google Scholar 

  84. Sjøberg, S. (2000). Science and scientists: The SAS Study. Retrieved April 23, 2004, from http://folk.uio.no/sveinsj/SASweb.htm.

  85. Sjøberg, S., & Schreiner, C. (2002). ROSE handbook: Introduction, guidelines and underlying ideas. Retrieved March 11, 2004, from http://folk.uio.no/sveinsj/ROSE%20handbook.htm.

  86. Sjøberg, S., & Schreiner, C. (2005). How do learners in different cultures relate to science and technology? Results and perspectives from the project ROSE. Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, 6(2), 1–17.

    Google Scholar 

  87. Spall, K., Barrett, S., Stanisstreet, M., Dickson, D., & Boyes, E. (2003). Undergraduates’ views about biology and physics. Research in Science & Technological Education, 21(2), 193–208.

    Google Scholar 

  88. Spelke, E. S. (2005). Sex differences in intrinsic aptitude for mathematics and science? A critical review. American Psychologist, 60, 950–958.

    Google Scholar 

  89. Stark, R., & Gray, D. (1999). Gender preferences in learning science. International Journal of Science Education, 21(6), 633–643.

    Google Scholar 

  90. Trumper, R. (2006). Factors affecting junior high school students’ interest in biology. Science Education International, 17(1), 31–48.

    Google Scholar 

  91. Weisstein, E. W. (2009). Minkowski Metric. MathWorld—A Wolfram Web Resource. Retrieved November 9, 2009, from http://mathworld.wolfram.com/MinkowskiMetric.html.

  92. Wenneras, C., & Wold, A. (1997). Nepotism and sexism in peer-review. Nature, 387, 341–343.

    Google Scholar 

  93. Woodward, C., & Woodward, N. (1998). Girls and science: Does a core curriculum in primary school give cause for optimism? Gender and Education, 10(4), 387–400.

    Google Scholar 

  94. Yerdelen-Damar, S., & Eryılmaz, A. (2009). Questions about physics: The case of a Turkish ‘Ask a Scientist’ website. Research in Science Education. doi:10.1007/s11165-008-9119-4.

  95. Zeldin, A. L., Britner, S. L., & Pajares, F. (2008). A comparative study of the self-efficacy beliefs of successful men and women in mathematics, science, and technology careers. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45(9), 1036–1058

    Google Scholar 

  96. Zohar, A. (2003). Her physics, his physics: Gender issues in Israeli advanced placement physics classes. International Journal of Science Education, 25(2), 245–268.

    Google Scholar 

  97. Zohar, A., & Bronshtein, B. (2005). Physics teachers’ knowledge and beliefs regarding girls’ low participation rates in advanced physics classes. International Journal of Science Education, 27(1), 61–77.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ayelet Baram-Tsabari.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Baram-Tsabari, A., Yarden, A. QUANTIFYING THE GENDER GAP IN SCIENCE INTERESTS. Int J of Sci and Math Educ 9, 523–550 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10763-010-9194-7

Download citation

KEY WORDS

  • biology
  • gender gap
  • interest
  • physics
  • quantitative
  • students’ questions methodology