Gender gap in physics, engineering, computer science isn't about academic achievement: NYU study

Men, even with low high-school GPAs in math, science and low SAT scores, were reaching for PECS and math-intensive majors.

FP Trending June 19, 2020 14:52:31 IST
Gender gap in physics, engineering, computer science isn't about academic achievement: NYU study

It's quite common to find gender imbalance in institutions and workplaces in fields like physics, engineering and computer sciences (PECS). People tend to explain the skewed stats in such programs by saying that most women are not interested in them. However, this isn't always true.

A recent study published in the research journal Science reveals that this disparity is not caused by higher math or science achievement among men. The New York University researchers that conducted the study found that men, even with very low high-school GPAs in math and science on top of low SAT scores, were reaching for math-intensive majors. On the other hand, women with much higher math and science achievement were choosing such courses.

"Physics, engineering and computer science fields are differentially attracting and retaining lower-achieving males, resulting in women being underrepresented in these majors but having higher demonstrated STEM competence and academic achievement," Joseph R Cimpian, lead researcher and associate professor of economics and education policy at NYU Steinhardt, said in a statement.

Gender gap in physics engineering computer science isnt about academic achievement NYU study

A pair of researchers working in a computer science laboratory at NREL. Image: Flickr/ScienceInHD

During the course of the study, the researchers analyzed data from almost 6,000 US high school students for over seven years. They noticed that "male students in the 1st percentile were majoring in PECS at the same rate as females in the 80th percentile.”

This demonstrated a stark contrast between the high academic achievements of the female students opting for majors in PECS compared to their male peers.

The team of researchers tried to find out if an extensive set of factors could explain the gender gap equally well among high, average, and low achieving students, according to Science DailyThey said that the gender imbalance in physics, engineering and computer science could be explained by factors such as a student’s prior career aspirations and confidence in their science abilities. But, these factors could not explain the higher rates of low-achieving men in the same fields.

This new research suggests that any future interventions to address gender disparity and equality in these fields need to be implemented with more nuance with consideration of a student's achievement.

 

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