If you go back in history, you will find that in every recorded year, fewer girls completed high school with math and science than their male counterparts.
In the early history of the western world, the reason was simply that girls were not allowed to study the same subjects at the same level as boys. In recent years where they have theoretically had the same opportunities, however, this trend has continued—albeit with a narrowing gap. There are several reasons for this.
#1: The Brain Myth
There’s a longstanding, completely untrue story that boys’ and girls’ brains differ, and that boys are somehow magically better equipped to understand complex math and science topics than girls. This myth has been debunked. There is no structural difference between boys and girl’s brains that makes either gender better or worse at math or science.
#2: The Social Situation
Even in the developed western world there’s still a lingering belief that because girls grow up to be women and have children, they should not aspire to careers in technical or complex fields. In fact, girls who excel in math and science are far more likely to be stigmatized by their peers for being “nerds” or overachievers than boys would be.
#3: Lack of Encouragement
Another big difference between girls and boys in STEM studies is the level of encouragement they are likely to receive from parents, peers and educators. Boys are still more likely to be encouraged to excel in these fields than girls are.
#4: Easy Options
Finally, there are some girls who, even though they may have a natural ability in STEM studies, opt for easier choices, simply because they’re an acceptable alternative. When given the choice between easy subjects and tougher ones, sometimes it’s attractive to take the easy route.
What Parents Can Do
If you are the parent of a girl who has shown an affinity for and ability in STEM studies early on, there are several things you can do to encourage and nurture that, and to help ensure that your daughter isn’t one of the many who opt out:
- Always offer encouragement. Even if you didn’t excel in STEM, you can still be your daughter’s biggest cheerleader!
- Invest in extracurricular studies, programs and camps that offer additional STEM instruction that’s fun and where your daughter will get the individual attention that’s so important to early STEM success.
- Visit your local library or surf the internet together, looking for inspirational women in the STEM fields. Nothing is as encouraging to young girls as seeing how women in science, math and engineering have changed the world.
- Reinforce the idea that just because something is a challenge, that does not mean it’s impossible. Parents of boys are more like to encourage their children to stick to STEM studies, even when it’s difficult. Teach your daughter not to give up when things get tough.
There’s an ever present shortage of women in STEM fields, whether it’s engineering or computer programming, and while inroads are being made in the fight to balance things out, it’s a slow process, and there’s a huge movement towards gender equality in these fields. If your daughter is one of the many who are considering pursuing STEM studies, then there’s never been a better or more exciting time!