Is the Gender Gap in STEM Fields Overstated?

Casey George-Jackson, an adjunct professor at the College of Education at the University of Illinois, suggests in a new study that the gender gap in STEM fields may be overstated due to a narrow definition of what constitutes STEM education.

Professor George-Jackson, who completed her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois in 2009, tracked more than 16,000 first-year students who matriculated in 1999 at five large land-grant universities. She tracked the students’ progress, including participation in STEM degree programs over the next six years.

Her data showed that when the definition of STEM fields was restricted to the physical sciences, mathematics, computer science, and engineering, 42 percent of male students were STEM majors as were 11 percent of the women. However, when using a broader definition of STEM education, which includes majors in health sciences, biological sciences, and agricultural sciences, the percentage of women majoring in STEM fields jumped to 37 percent, compared to 54 percent for men. Women accounted for 78 percent of all students majoring in the health sciences and 60 percent of the students in the biological and agricultural sciences.

The study also found that in the broader definition of STEM fields, persistence and graduation rates for women were only slightly lower than for men.

The complete study appears in the Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering. It can be purchased online here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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