Study Finds Women Outperform Men in College STEM Courses, But Are Still Perceived as Less Competent

A new study by researchers at Colorado State University finds that women are outperforming men in both physical and life science undergraduate courses, while simultaneously continuing to be perceived as less-able students.

Researchers measured students’ perceptions of women’s and men’s abilities in life and physical sciences by asking participants to identify fellow students in their participating classes. Participants were asked to name between two and five students who were the best students in their class. Students could include themselves in their top 5.

The results showed that in both life science and physical science courses, women had statistically higher course grades than men, higher university-wide GPAs than men, and were 1.5 times more likely to earn an A or A+ than men. However, both men and women identified women as students they study with, seek help from, find knowledgeable, and perceive as the best in the class at lower proportions than the actual success rates of women in their classes.

“Women are excelling in STEM, and yet they still contend with biased perceptions of their abilities,” the authors write. “Our study demonstrates that women can still be subject to gender bias even when they outperform and outnumber their male counterparts in undergraduate STEM classrooms.”

“This is problematic,” the authors write, “because undergraduate women may not be able to escape gender-ability stereotypes even when they are outperforming men, which has important implications for 1) the recognition of women’s achievements among their peers in undergraduate education and 2) retention of women in STEM disciplines and careers.”

The full study, “Outperforming Yet Undervalued: Undergraduate Women in STEM,” was published on PLOS One. It may be accessed here.

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