Watt, H.M.G., Hyde, J.S., Petersen, J. et al. Sex Roles (2016) recently published a study that fewer women pursue mathematically inclined fields in sciences such as physics as compared to men and there are a variety of factors that contribute to this phenomenon. The study also states that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is too broad of a qualifier and there are various participation levels for females within sciences, for example, biology has a sufficient representation of females and where physics doesn’t.
This study was done with help of high school students in USA (9th to 12th grades) and Australia (9th to 11th grades). The study focused on preferred career choices in physics, biology, chemistry, and mathematics of these students based on mathematical performance, motivations, and mothers’ perceptions in the past.
The Australian study concluded that female students’ mathematics self concept was closely tied to their past performance and their perception on their mathematical abilities impacted their performance more than those of the boys. The American study produced similar results.
There are a lot of good data points in this research and it reinforces the impact of high school curriculum choices, performance in mathematics and most importantly its impact on students’ choice of a college major and a future career. As per Janet Hyde, one of the study’s authors said via email to US News and World Report, “The gender gaps are in physics, computer science, and engineering … Only a minority of students take physics in high school — a big mistake — and girls are less likely to take physics courses than boys are.”