Addressing the persistent gender gaps in some STEM pursuits

June 18, 2020

In a Policy Forum, Joseph Cimpian and colleagues identify blind spots in current educational policy designed to remedy gender inequity in STEM and argue that interventions may need to become more nuanced concerning student achievement. Not all STEM majors are equal in terms of gender disparity and despite educational efforts to equalize gender representation, significant gaps persist in some areas. While men and women are now nearly equally represented in biology, chemistry, mathematics and many other STEM college majors, men continue to outnumber women 4-to-1 in the fields of physics, engineering and computer science (PECS). Using the Department of Education's High School Longitudinal Study of 2009, which tracked nearly 6,000 students nationwide throughout their high school and college careers, Cimpian et al. evaluated the largely overlooked links between gender differences in achievement and the pursuit of PECS majors. According to the findings, low-achieving men join and persist in PECS majors at rates higher than far more qualified women. What's more, women who major in such fields are higher-achieving than their male peers. The patterns suggest that, while research and policy may be successful in encouraging high-achieving women into PECS pursuits, other factors may be discouraging average- and lower-achieving women from entering these fields, despite attracting lower-achieving men. Without addressing these factors, the persistent PECS gender gap is unlikely to fully close as it has in other STEM fields, say the authors.
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American Association for the Advancement of Science

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