The Gender Gap in Science

        According to the Center for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Education (2000) Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: A Guide for Teaching and Learning, “learning is mediated by the social environment in which learners interact with others.”  In a report published in 1992 by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) titled How Schools Shortchange Girls social environments were strongly credited with the then growing gender gaps in science education.  When this report was published evidence showed that the gender gap in math was beginning to show signs of closing but not the gender gap in science.  In fact, further investigation may show that the gender gap in science is actually increasing.  According to the National Assessment of Education Progress, the gender gap was most evident for seventeen year olds and males had the largest advantage in the fields of physics, chemistry, earth and space sciences.

            The AAUW pointed out different patterns in science course taking between males and females.  Girls were more likely to take advanced placement classes in biology than in chemistry.  In addition, a 1991 survey reported that first year high school physics classes were 60 percent male and second year high school physics classes increased to 70 percent male.  Consequently, a disproportionately low number of girls are choosing careers in science.  One study showed less than 19 percent of the females taking physics and calculus were planning to major in science or engineering versus the 64 percent of the males taking the same courses.  Girls reported that their decisions to pursue careers in science or engineering were primarily influenced and encouraged by teachers not by counselors.  In fact, most girls felt that counselors actually discouraged those career options. 

            Research has shown that interest in math and science for both sexes declines the longer students are in school.   Studies show that girls more often than boys lose faith in their ability to learn math leading to dropping out of math courses.  This lack of confidence is more likely to prompt a female student to drop out of math courses than her actual ability.  In addition, meta-analysis have reported that girls view math as a very “male” subject and typically those girls who reject traditional gender roles have higher achievement in math than those who do not.  Changes in the social environment should emphasize in the early grade levels with increased efforts at the middle school and high school levels to gain girls’ attention and interest in both math and science and keep them interested throughout their educational careers.