The Truth About STEM Gender Gap

Close your eyes and imagine an engineer building a model, or a scientist doing experiments. Now, what’s the gender of the person that you’re picturing? For most people, it’s probably a male. In reality, though there are more and more working women today, it is true that women are still underrepresented in a lot of professions, especially those in STEM.


Does this mean that women are just not as good as men in STEM-related fields? To answer this question, we take a closer look at researches focusing on gender differences in STEM education. In 2009, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) average mathematics and science scale scores of high school graduates show no significant gender differences among high school graduates who earned credits in advanced math and engineering/science courses. In 2016, Emily Richmond, editor for the National Education Writers Association, pointed out that when breaking down the NAEP scores by gender, “girls averaged 151 points (out of a possible 300, three points higher than for boys). Further, “45 percent of females met or exceeded the proficient level, compared with 42 percent of males.”

What do these results mean? They mean that girls do just as well as boys in STEM learnings; more than that, they may outperform boys in critical thinking and technology-related problem-solving skills! However, performance is not the same thing as interest. One may have excellent performance and skills in a certain subject, but he/she doesn’t necessarily like it. A 2015 report published by the National Center for Education Statistics describes the affective dispositions (i.e. interest or attitude) of high school graduates toward STEM courses. The key finding is that compared to males, lower percentages of female high school graduates reported that they liked mathematics or science, although more female took courses in algebra, advanced biology, chemistry, and health science/technology.

So, it seems that the so-called gender gap in STEM is more real in terms of interest than of performance. Granted, the statistics from these researches may not be perfectly accurate, but they point to us an often neglected situation in STEM education -- that in order to close the gender gap in STEM fields or to improve our STEM education in general, interest is key. Our children need to be passionate about STEM to do well in those areas and derive genuine appreciation and happiness from what they do. After all, there is no point in pursuing higher scores in STEM without firstly planting in our children’s hearts a true interest in technology and innovation.

Cavan Images via Getty Images

Cavan Images via Getty Images

Today (March 8th) we at Dearest celebrate the International Women’s Day (IWD). We believe that our girls are as intelligent and capable as our boys in STEM, and that real improvement in any education starts with cultivating passion in learning. This year, the IWD campaign theme is #BeBoldForChange, and that’s what Dearest is striving for in today’s childcare industry. We welcome you to join us and make a change for our children.



The Atlantic

National Center for Educational Statistics

International Women's Day