In the last hundred years, women have made great strides in fields once considered to exclusively belong to men. Yet while there has been progress in correcting these imbalances, there are still significant gender gaps in male-dominated fields. Though women make up nearly 50% of the workforce, they make up only 29% of STEM fields.
Why the Gap?
There are several factors that contribute to this imbalance. When math and science are represented as masculine pursuits, women will be less inclined to gravitate toward those subjects in school, choosing subjects and careers that are represented as being more traditionally feminine, such as reading and writing. These gender biases can come from a myriad of sources. Parents may encourage their children’s interests accordingly, whether they mean to or not. Boys are often given almanacs and science sets as gifts while girls receive diaries and fiction novels. Representation in media is also a factor, as well as the culture of the field once women do enter into it.
Green Fields Close Gender Gap
Fortunately, that gap appears to be closing. A new study suggests that an increase in “green fields” may be contributing to this. Green fields are areas of study that contribute to jobs that benefit the environment. Because green fields are a relatively new study, they haven’t established a history of being male-dominated, thus opening up participation from a more diverse pool.
Performance in School and Higher Education
Women are not the only ones who suffer from an educational gender gap. 56% of students enrolled in universities are women. Boys are less likely to achieve proficiency in core assessment areas. Girls are more likely to read for pleasure and boys tend to show less interest in school. What is the cause of this disparity?
One factor could be attributed to a culture of masculinity. Studiousness and academics are beginning to be viewed as feminine. The average 15-year-old girl spends more time on homework while her male counterpart spends more time in front of screens. There is also a factor of teacher bias. 80% of primary school teachers and 70% of secondary school teachers are women. Perhaps they are favoring their own gender. Teachers also prefer students who are well-mannered and motivated, areas in which girls outperform boys. Boys score higher on tests where they remain anonymous.
The issue of a gender gap in education appears to stem from cultural factors, rather than biological factors. At one time, reading and writing were considered skills only fit for men. Now they have been stereotyped as feminine, causing boys to lose interest. Science and math are projected as masculine pursuits, deterring girls from participating in them. Girls are taught to be quiet and obedient, making them more desirable pupils. Raucous, disruptive behavior in boys is written off with the “boys will be boys” mentality. Perhaps if less emphasis is placed on traditional gender roles, this disparity can be reduced.