More Proof That It’s U.S. Culture Keeping Girls Out of Science

Try as we can there seems yet to be a satisfactory explanation for why so many more men than women have careers and hold the top ranks in the sciences. In 2005, former advisor to President Obama and then-president of Harvard Larry Summers famously explained that it was because women just didn’t have the same “aptitude” for math and science. But short of Ivy League, Wall Street mansplaining, what does account for the gap? Researchers think they are closing in on an answer.

A new clue provides more credence to the argument that cultural forces rather than biological determinism keep girls away from scientific careers in the states. A test, given in 65 developed countries by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, found that among a representative sample of 15-year-olds worldwide, girls generally outperform boys in science. That is, everywhere except the United States.

The New York Times has a breakdown of the tests and the results are fascinating, though in some ways expected. Andreas Schliecher, who oversees the tests, explained to the New York Times that different countries offer different incentives for learning science and math. In the United States, boys are more likely than girls to “see science as something that affects their life.” He isn’t the only one. “We see that very early in childhood — around age 4 — gender roles in occupations appear to be formed,” said Christianne Corbett, co-author of the 2010 report “Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math” told the New York Times. “Women are less likely to go into science careers, although they are clearly capable of succeeding.”

Okay, the idea of girls in this country being pressured away from the sciences is nothing new, but given the ubiquity of these forces globally, what separates the United States from other countries like Russia? Opportunity. Russia, Asia and the Middle East already have a higher proportion of women in science and engineering, which means we’ve entered into a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy: low numbers of women in the profession leads to low numbers of recruits. Low number of recruits means pushing more women into more positions just isn’t happening like we need it to.

For that change to happen, girls need to dream beyond the princess. Or we need to do a better job explaining that magic and science co-exist. Imagine the possibilities.

Related Stories:

Hunting for Girl Power?

Girls Can Change the World (Watch the Video)

Dispatches from the War on Women: Girl Scouts Really a Feminist Army in Training

Photo from edenpictures via flickr.


Jovanca Molina
Maria Molina4 years ago

Bourdieu says it´s social learning. Our parents, teachers, friends usually tell a girl what no to study, because it is for boys. My PhD thesis is about using Robotics to improve girls interest in science subjects. It works.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W4 years ago

Of course, it's a harmful sterotype!

Annelies Haussler
liessi Haussler4 years ago

Robert F : at first, your comment made me roll my eyes but quickly came around. Now i'm thinking about this in a totally new light, almost to the point of 're-writing' the old fairytales (archetypes) in my head. You're absolutely right -- instead of focusing on the dress, we need to focus on the drive, the force, carried by the princess-who-would-be-queen and nurture that.

Thank you for unique post.

Sonia Minwer-Barakat Requ

Thanks for sharing

rene davis
irene davis4 years ago

Thank you for the article...

Danuta Watola
Danuta W4 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Lydia Price

Too bad a lot of "science" involves animal experimentation. Let's close down animal research labs forever.

Alan G.
Alan G4 years ago

I thought U.S. culture was keeping both boys and girls out of education in general.

I think Miss South Carolina Teen USA 2007 said it best:

"I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some people out there in our nation don't have maps and, uh, I believe that our education like such as in South Africa and, uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as, and, I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, or, uh, should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future, for our [children]."

Mike and Janis B.
Janis B4 years ago

Of course they are being kept out of these preserves. Men are scared to death that women will be far better at these skills than they are.

Melania Padilla
Melania P4 years ago

Just as this issue is the government´s responsability it is also one for parents´ to be responsible for.