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The Gender Gap in STEM Fields: The Impact of the Gender Stereotype of Math and Science on Secondary Students' Career Aspirations

Published
Jul 1, 2019
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Abstract

Studies have repeatedly reported that math and science are perceived as male domains, and scientists as predominantly male. However, the impact of the gender image of school science subjects on young people's career choice has not yet been analyzed. This paper investigates the impact of the masculinity image of three school subjects—chemistry, mathematics, and physics—on secondary students' career aspirations in STEM fields. The data originated from a cross-sectional study among 1'364 Swiss secondary school students who were close to obtaining their matriculation diploma. By means of a standardized survey, data on students' perception of masculinity of science school subjects were collected using semantic differentials. The results indicate that for both sexes, math has the strongest masculinity attribution, followed by physics as second, and, finally, chemistry with the lowest masculinity attribution. With respect to gender differences, our findings have shown that among female students, the attribution of masculinity to the three school subjects does not differ significantly, meaning that female students rated all subjects similarly strongly as masculine. Within the group of male students however, the attribution of masculinity to math compared to chemistry and physics differs significantly, whereas the attribution of masculinity to chemistry and physics does not. Our findings also suggest that gender-science stereotypes of math and science can potentially influence young women's and men's aspirations to enroll in a STEM major at university by showing that a less pronounced masculine image of science has the potential to increase the likelihood of STEM career aspirations. Finally, the paper discusses ways of changing the image of math and science in the context of secondary education in order to overcome the disparities between females and males in STEM.

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