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Gender Gap Infographic

As we head into the final days of March, I’d like to share with you the following infographic sent to me by a reader.  It collects some interesting (and depressing) data on women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers.

Girls in STEM
Created by: Engineering Degree

While I don’t necessarily put a lot of stock into the opening IQ numbers (see here and here for examples of problems with IQ testing), and I’m not sure if the data on course load in the first part is statistically significant, the data in the latter parts is quite compelling.  I’ve discussed the psychological component of the gender gap before, but the data in the second section of this infographic provides more evidence to the claim that psychology and cultural influences, rather than biology, is behind the gender gap we see in the sciences.

Of course, anytime someone with the aptitude is dissuaded from pursuing a technical career, it is unfortunate.  When a large number of people with the aptitude don’t pursue technical careers, we lose out on opportunities to innovate and discover.  I’m no expert on what steps can be taken to try and close the gap, but if readers have any thoughts on the data or what should be done in response to it, feel free to sound off below.

(Thanks to Jen for sharing the graphic with me.)

  • Cody L. Custis

    There is a lot of misleading information in the infographic. For example, the percentage of female freshmen majoring in STEM is lower, however, the absolute number of STEM male and female freshmen/freshwomen is much closer, as the proportion of freshstudents who are women is greater than half. Likewise, while only 20% of women with a STEM degree work in a related field, the authors omit a comparable percentage for men.

    I get reminded of the Berkeley gender bias case.

  • Fawn Nguyen

    Picture No. 2 above is very interesting, how perception dictates performance. Do girls have higher test anxiety in general to begin with? All of my students who struggle on tests AND whose parents bring up test anxiety as a cause are the girls’ parents. (Parents of boys just say their boys didn’t study.)

    I don’t know exactly what happens to the girls, but personally it was my wanting to start a family changed the course of my career. Since 6th grade I’d wanted to be an engineer(architecture?), declared that as my major when applying to colleges, then HS senior year I dated a guy who wanted to be a doctor, so I switched to Biology! Then I switched to teaching when HE pursued med school; I wanted kids.

    For one year I co-coached about 20 girls in an after-school GEMS (girls excelling in math and science)club. Your post makes me wonder where these girls are today, they should just be out of college.

    Thanks, Matt.

  • Matt

    @Cody – thanks for catching these. Do you happen to know off hand what the proportion of male/female freshmen looks like? I imagine there would still be some disparity, since the proportions (29% vs 15%) are still quite different. You’re right, though, in absolute terms I’d imagine the numbers are closer.

    @Fawn, yeah, I’ve heard family as the reason why many women don’t pursue academic careers in mathematics. I wonder if this is less of a factor in countries with more incentives for professionals to start a family. In general it would be interesting to compare data like this across countries, though I don’t know how easy the data would be to come by.