Countries that fare worse in gender equality actually have larger proportions of female STEM graduates, a new study finds — and interventions could work best on girls who excel in science or math
Slow your roll, Scandinavia.
Countries that fare worse in gender equality (e.g. Turkey, Tunisia, Algeria) actually have larger proportions of female science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates than their more gender-equal counterparts like Finland, Norway and Sweden, according to a new study in the journal Psychological Science.
One potential explanation for this so-called “gender-equality paradox”: Those high-paying STEM jobs look mighty appealing in nations lacking economic opportunity. And while STEM careers tend to pay well and offer security, “the risks of not following such a path can vary,” lead author Gijsbert Stoet, a professor of psychology at the UK’s Leeds Beckett University, said in a statement.
“In more affluent countries where any choice of career feels relatively safe, women may feel able to make choices based on non-economic factors,” he said. “Conversely, in countries with fewer economic opportunities, or where employment might be precarious, a well-paid and relatively secure STEM career can be more attractive to women.”
The authors’ analysis of nearly 475,000 young people in 67 countries or regions also found gender differences in academic strength: While the level of STEM achievement was generally similar for both boys and girls, boys tended to be relatively stronger in science and math and girls tended to be relatively stronger in reading comprehension — leading the girls to pursue non-STEM-related fields, said co-author David Geary, a professor at the University of Missouri. These differences, the authors wrote, arise from the apparently rational choice to pursue personal academic strengths.
Interventions could be particularly effective on girls who excel in science or math, they said. “If governments want to increase women’s participation in STEM, a more effective strategy might be to target the girls who are clearly being ‘lost’ from the STEM pathway: those for whom science and maths are their best subjects and who enjoy it but still don’t choose it,” Stoet said.
Reaching parity in STEM “will take more than improving girls’ science education and raising overall gender equality,” Stoet and Geary added — so interventions aimed at upping women’s numbers in those fields, they argued, should account for differences in academic competency and the expected value of pursuing various career paths.
© 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved