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Societal stereotypes keeping girls out of STEM

December 16, 2021
By: Ellen Marrison

Societal stereotypes that depict girls as being less interested in computer science and engineering may be hindering girls from participating in those fields later in life, according to a recent article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors found that young children and adolescents endorsed gender-interest stereotypes, which negatively predict girls’ interest in pursuing computer science and engineering and sense of belonging in these fields.

In their study of stereotypes, authors Allison Master, Andrew N. Meltzoff and Sapna Cheryan found that children as young as six and adolescents across multiple racial/ethnic and gender intersections endorse stereotypes that girls are less interested than boys in computer science and engineering. And the more that individual girls believed that, the lower their own interest and sense of belonging in those fields was, according to the study.

While the prevalence of negative stereotypes about women’s and girls’ abilities have been shown to contribute to gender disparities in computer science and engineering, this study looked at a different stereotype — that they have lower interest in those subjects.

The authors note that computer science and engineering have some of the largest gender disparities in college, which in turn contribute to societal inequities and also play a role in the gender wage gap

“Overall, these findings suggest that educators who wish to promote girls’ interest and engagement in STEM should consider using programs and activities designed to counteract these stereotypes in their efforts to promote educational equity and draw more young girls to STEM,” the authors recommend.

The full article, Gender stereotypes about interests start early and cause gender disparities in computer science and engineering, including suggestions for further study, is available here.