The new gender gap

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has focused a lot of its efforts into analyzing the science data portion of the most recent round of the international comparative assessment known as PISA.  In particular, they analyzed some of the gender differences that were found related to sciences.  The conclusion that many could come to when looking at the general data from the assessment is the gender gap has closed significantly in the sciences. The OECD average science score for boys in 2015 was 495 and girls was 491, resulting in a mere 4 point gender gap.  Another indicator to assess the gender gap in science is the percent of boys versus girls expecting to work in a science related field.  The OECD average for boys is 25% and girls is 23.9%.  The United States has a different gender gap with 33% of boys and 43% of girls expecting to enter a career related to science. These data points give a false sense that the gender gap in science no longer exists.  However, with deeper analysis it is clear that the gap is still very present but now is no longer about whether girls are interested in the general concept of science but which areas within science each gender finds more interesting.

The OECD broke down science-related fields into five categories to see if girls were more dominant than boys in certain types of sciences, which is exactly what they found.  For example, 14.4% of girls compared to 5.9% of boys expect to work as a health care professional.  It is important to note that this title includes professions ranging from nurses to surgeons, since nursing tends to be a heavily female profession.

gender gap graph 1

The opposite was true for the engineering and natural science fields.  According to the OECD average, boys were 2.4 times more likely to enter these fields compared to girls.  The gap was even wider for the United States where boys are 3.3 times more likely to enter the engineering field than girls.  This clearly show that a gap persists depending on the type of science- related profession a student wishes to enter.

gender gap graph 2

The third point that I want to highlight is the difference in “enjoyment of science”.  As you can see from the graph below, boys report higher than average enjoyment on all questions about learning general science.  Girls, on the other hand, report lower than average enjoyment on all questions.  When people enjoy learning about a subject, they tend to look for more opportunities to gain exposure. This is very concerning for girls, because while they may dominate in select science related professions, they do not enjoy learning about science as much as boys.  The OECD gave recommendations to help girls see the fun in science at home and at school.  Simple activities like encouraging girls to read nonfiction, which is read by significantly more boys, is one example of introducing girls to the interesting explorative side of sciences.

gedner gap graph 3

This shows how important it is to dig deeper into data and information about gender gaps to see where disparities lie.  With deeper analysis, the gender gap is undeniable and shows that boys and girls still view science very differently.  While the gender gap persists in the United States, it is obvious that it is an international problem that many nations are trying to solve.  This is an area where policy makers could look to their international peers to devise and test different solutions since it is a universal problem that everyone is trying to solve.