Girls good at math half as likely to study science or math at university

Women are avoiding some of the most lucrative degrees

by Josh Dehaas

Young Canadian women who are good at math in high school are half as likely as young men who excel in the subject to choose math-heavy STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer science) in university, according to a new analysis by Statistics Canada.

One measure considered was the Programme for International Student Assessment’s standardized exam. StatsCan observed that only 23% of Canadian 15-year-old girls who scored in the top three of six categories on the math section of the recent PISA test ended up taking STEM compared to 46% of boys in the top three. Among top performing females, 48% chose social sciences.

Another measure they looked at was high school grades. Among students with marks in the 80% to 89% range, 52% of boys chose a STEM program in university compared to only 22% of girls who were just as highly graded. Among girls who had 90% or above in high school, only 41% chose STEM compared to 61% of boys with marks in that range. The pattern held true for low marks too.

Lack of self-confidence among females doesn’t explain the difference, according to StatsCan: “Among university-bound students who considered their mathematics skills as “excellent”, 66% of males chose a STEM program compared with 47% of females. Among those who considered their mathematical abilities as “good”, 36% of males and 15% of females chose a STEM program.”

StatsCan points out that women were especially likely to avoid engineering, where they made up only 23% of graduates in 2011, and mathematics and computer science, where they made up 30% of graduates. That means many females are missing out on two fields with some of the best job prospects. According to the Ontario Graduate Survey, 2010 computer science graduates had average salaries of $63,044 two years after graduation, up $5,050 over three years earlier. Engineering graduates averaged $61,884, up $2,032. Meanwhile, the average salary for new social sciences graduates—more than two-thirds of whom are women—was $42,585, a drop of $798.

Click to see how employment rates and average salaries are changing for new graduates




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Girls good at math half as likely to study science or math at university

  1. It’s another cultural taboo that has to change.

    • It is more than a cultural taboo going on here. My niece is under 10 yrs old, she’s quite good at science in particular that we have done through khan academy, but she does not talk about being a scientist when she gets older.

      When I asked my niece why she frowns when I suggest she continue studying science, she said the clothes were wrong. Females who are really interested in science career might be outliers. Spending your life in airless, sunless labs with everyone wearing the same white coat does not appeal to everyone.

      • LOL you’ve had too much eggnog.

      • Sigh

      • Scientists only wear lab coats when working with hazardous stuff.
        Most scientists wear business casual clothes, except those that like to dress up.

      • Holy crap.
        My much better half is an engineer and after doing 10-15 years on site she now goes to work in designer clothes, holidays three times a year, is highly respected and is extremely well paid.
        Every occupation has a period whereby you earn your chops, move around to gain experience and do what you have to do to get on. STEM occupations are no exception except they are still better paid and have better opportunities for advancement than a lot of professions. After that the clothes and what ever else your niece wants are there for them to enjoy.

        The fact that you don’t correct her and reinforce her prejudices with your dated and outmoded views of something you clearly know nothing about means you are doing her a disservice.
        In coaching we have a rule, “First, do no harm.” Given your ignorance of STEM occupations. If you don’t know what you are talking about, refer her to a person who does or just say nothing.

      • Hester I would love to meet your niece to set her (and perhaps you) straight. I am a female atmospheric physicist. I have worn a lab coat once, while painting. When I was the type of scientist who had a lab, it had windows and I spent a lot of time outside collecting data (from the Sun even!). I wear nice clothes. I own too many pairs of shoes. Most of my female scientist friends are the same. Some of the men too.

      • Such a comment leads me to believe your niece isn’t all that bright. Seriously? The clothes??

      • Sounds like good doctor material.

  2. The “recent PISA test” mentioned in the story above used to match with students’ post-secondary program choice was the 2000 PISA test. The 15-year-olds who wrote the most recent PISA test are generally still in high school.

  3. There is more to life and happiness than how much money you make. Maybe some girls who are good at math don’t like math and just prefer other things? Maybe boys, who are pushed to be hyper-competitive, will seek out degrees that pay more rather than study things they enjoy. When I was in university i was constantly asked why I chose to study History. I said that if I was going to pay thousands of dollars for an education I was going to study something I liked. Almost everyone who asked said, “If I had it to do over again I would do what you are doing, not what I did.”

    • Men are not more “hypercompetitive” than women. The criteria for status are simply different.

      But it is true in our culture that boys are more likely to anticipate that money will be the criteria for status as men – including status with women. Whereas girls, (like Hester’s niece) are more likely to anticipate they will be judged by their looks. Of course, plenty of women have priorities that outweigh a potential partner’s salary, and plenty of men admire more in a woman than just looks… but the Hollywood pop culture cliches by which we raise our kids are much worse than real Canadians’ actual gender values.

  4. It has nothing to do with clothes … just look at, majority female nurses and doctors, in health care. Strangely, girls turn-off math, science and STEM, all at the same time …. around the first menses. Also, they change quickly … beginning of month, they are ok with STEM, end of month full 180 away from STEM. Many attempts, such as, building self confidence, remove external influences, failed. Given the timing, speed, and vast number, I believe that only an internal influence has the power to make this dramatic change … very mysterious.

    • Cheezus….be serious.

    • Do you have evidence for your ridiculous claims?

  5. Engineering isn’t all its cracked up to be. You can make more as a government employee, postie or GM….. And engineers are a click group of male testosterone and have little respect for intelligent women. I know, I was an engineer in software development and worked with women. While I wish there were more women in the engineering, I fully understand why they stay away.

    But I don’t regret doing engineering, as when I got experience and exhausted growth in Canada I moved abroad and had a great time.

    If a woman has the smarts, best to become a doctor or surgeon. Then you can work, travel and get paid well. Engineering in Canada does not pay well.

  6. If a girl has the smarts for STEM, then forget these careers and do dentistry or a doctor. 3 important reasons why:

    1) Skills are portable, why visit some country when you can get paid to live there on a term assignment? You can live almost anywhere with a medical profession.

    2) Medicine pays a lot better than engineering. Less testosterone, mason bias and ego to put up with as women in medicine is very much less prejudice. Engineering a tooth reconstruction pays huge.

    3) Easy to do part time if you want to have babies, enjoy life or travel, as you are more of your own boss. You are harder to replace thus more valued.

    And while I would have liked to see more women in my engineering career, I can understand why they do not choose engineering as much.

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