Study Looks at Why Adolescent Girls Turn Away From Science

A new study by researchers at the University of Nebraska Lincoln attempted to find out why girls have a sharp drop off of interest in science between fourth and eighth grades.

After surveying a large group of middle school students, researchers found that stereotypes and friendships influenced girls behavior. Participants were asked if their friends were a “science kind of person.” Girls answered “yes” for 41 percent of their male friends but for only 25 percent of the girl friends. Boys were more likely to say “no” when referring to their female friends than was the case for their same-gender friends. A similar gender gap were found when participants were asked the same question about themselves.

G. Robin Gauthier, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Nebraska and lead author of the study, said “people have this image of a scientist in their mind, and a scientist is a White male, so if you’re asked if your female friend is like that, the go-to answer is going to be no.”

The authors conclude that “it is possible that girls who might otherwise have higher science career aspirations do not, only because they would lose friends or face criticism or fewer options for friendships.” They recommend that more be done at the middle school level to encourage interest in science, such as inclusive science clubs and inviting a diverse group of scientists into the classroom.

The study, “The Potential Scientist’s Dilemma: How the Masculine Framing of Science Shapes Friendships and Science Job Aspirations,” was published in the journal Social Sciences. It is available here.

Filed Under: Research/StudySTEM Fields


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