Study Examines Wide Gender Disparities in Degree Attainments in STEM Fields

While women earn a solid majority of all degrees in higher education, they receive only about 37 percent of all degrees awarded in STEM fields. And even within STEM disciplines there are wide gender disparities.

sapnaA new study led by Sapna Cheryan, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Washington, examines the reasons why women do better in some STEM fields compared to others. After analyzing more than 1,200 academic papers on the subject, the authors of this new study concluded that there were three main reasons for the gender gap: a lack of pre-college experience for women in certain STEM fields, gender gaps in belief in one’s abilities in a particular field, and a masculine culture that discourages women from participating in certain fields.

According to the authors, the masculine culture occurs due to a lack of women role models, negative stereotypes of women’s abilities in certain fields, and women’s perception that they do not belong.

Dr. Cheryan stated that “students are basing their educational decisions in large part on their perceptions of a field. And not having early experience with what a field is really like, makes it more likely that they will rely on their stereotypes about that field and who is good at it.”

The authors conclude that “efforts to increase women’s participation in computer science, engineering, and physics may benefit from changing masculine cultures and providing students with early experiences that signal equally to both girls and boys that they belong and can succeed in these fields.”

The study, “Why Are Some STEM Fields More Gender Balanced Than Others?” was published in the October 12 edition of Psychological Bulletin. It may be accessed here.

Dr. Cheryan joined the faculty at the University of Washington in 2007. She is a graduate of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and holds a Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University.

Filed Under: Gender GapResearch/StudySTEM Fields


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