Study Shows Gender Inequality Not Responsible for Girls Not Choosing STEM Field

ashley.rae | April 26, 2016

Psychologists have discovered girls are less likely to pursue education and careers in STEM fields because they feel “negative emotions” toward math.

According to research from the University of Missouri, the University of California-Irvine, and the University of Glasgow, girls suffer from “mathematics anxiety” at a higher rate than boys.

In other words, girls don’t pursue math because math scares them.

The study claims mathematics anxiety “refers to the negative feelings (affect) experienced during the preparation of and during explicit engagement in mathematical pursuits.”

David Geary, Curators' professor of psychological sciences at the MU College of Arts and Sciences, said, “We analyzed student performance in 15-year olds from around the world along with socio-economic indicators in more than 60 countries and economic regions, including the U.S. and the United Kingdom.”

“Analysis revealed that girls’ mathematics anxiety was not related to the level of their mothers’ engagement in STEM careers, nor was it related to gender equality in the countries we studied. In fact, the gender difference in mathematics anxiety was larger in more gender-equal and developed countries,” he added.

“In more developed countries, boys’ and girls’ mathematics performance was higher and their mathematics anxiety was lower, but this pattern was stronger for boys than for girls,” Geary said.

Gijsbert Stoet, reader of philosophy at the University of Glasgow and one of the co-authors of the study, said, “Policies to attract more girls and women into subjects such as computer science, physics and engineering have largely failed.”

“Gender equality is a key humanistic value in enlightened and developed societies, but our research shows that policy makers cannot rely on it as the sole factor in getting more girls into subjects like physics and computer science. It is fair to say that nobody knows what will actually attract more girls into these subjects. Policies and programs to change the gender balance in non-organic STEM subjects have just not worked,” Stoet concluded.