Gender Differences In Stem

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Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) pervades every part of society. However, it has been projected that it will be difficult for the U.S. to fill STEM related jobs in the upcoming years due to retirements (Wyss, 2012). This makes it clear for the need to increase students attitudes and interests in these fields. Therefore, research over recent years have conducted studies through all education levels to analyze perceptions and interest within STEM fields (Blume-Kohout, 2014). The largest proportion of the studies support the premise that the major difference in interest in STEM is gender (Blume-Kohout, 2014). These previous research findings show how a lack of interest contributed to a “gender gap” where women are underrepresented within STEM fields. Throughout the following literature review, prior studies regarding the gender gap in STEM will be disgusted to examine the hole to ultimately answer the following question: Does gender relate to Hampton High School upperclassmen students interest in STEM related college majors?


At its most basic, STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and math. They key component interlocking each of these four categories into one is integration. Rather than educating disciplines in autonomous subject lessons, STEM education exercises are balanced, task and request based, with an emphasis on interdisciplinary learning (Hom, 2014). STEM education stresses the importance of “bridging in-school and out-of-school STEM opportunities” (Hom, 2014).

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Gender Gap

Within STEM it has been discovered that women are in the minority among careers, interests, academics, and perceived abilities (Delaney, Devereux, 2019). These factors has lead to the gender gap that exists in society today due to the underrepresentation in the previous areas mentioned. Unfortunately, it is still under debate on why the gender gap is prevalent in society today.

Cognitive Ability

To understand cognitive ability, you first need to understand that cognition has to do with how a person understands the world and acts in it. Therefor, cognitive abilities involves brain-based skills that are needed to carry out any task from the simplest to the most complex (APA Dictionary). Instead of dealing with any actual knowledge, cognitive abilities deal more with the factors of how people learn, recollect, problem solve, and focus.


In the past, it has been shown that males are dominant in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. Towards the end of the 20th century, the science and technology labor force expanded due to increase in technology. This helped to allow female graduation rates in STEM to increase between two and ten times since the 1970s (National). However, the domination of males are not only shown in the workforce, it has also been shown to carry over in the enrollment and achievement in STEM education (Delaney, J., & Devereux, 2019). To help resolve this issue, in 2006 the U.S. Department of Education created the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Reauthorization). This act set accountability requirements to ensure districts and postsecondary education make progress in closing the gender gap in ‘nontraditional’ fields, defined as having fewer than 25% of students from one gender participate (Reauthorization). As the gender gap as been decreasing through generations, the nature of the gender gap is still prevalent in society.

Cognitive Factor

I. Relative Cognitive Strengths

A strong factor that could be a key reason behind the gender gap within STEM is relative Cognitive Strengths (Wang, Degol, 2017). The Community for Advancing Discovery Research and Education was more detailed and explicit in defining what gifted individuals that were likely to pursue a STEM career. The study discovered that in the high-verbal/high-math/high-science ability group, individuals with higher science task values and lower orientation toward altruism were more likely to select STEM occupations. On the other hand, the low-verbal/moderate-math/moderate-science ability group were more likely to select non-STEM careers (Wang, Ye, Lauren, 2016). A notable finding is that girls are more likely than boys to be highly skilled in math and verbal domains showing that they are hypothetically given a greater variety of career options (Wang, Degol, 2017).

Sociocultural Factors

I. Biases

Another aspect for the gap of interest in STEM between males and females is sociocultural factors. A large barrier for women in STEM are implicit biases, which is unconscious beliefs (Why). The purpose of a study conducted by Carleton College was to discover student biases toward other students. In this study at the University of Washington, 1700 undergraduate biology students were asked to name other students they thought had a strong understanding of class material. It was found that male students underestimated their female peers (Ormand, 2018). This trend did not only stop within the classroom walls it was also found that there are implicit biases in the hiring process, towards colleagues, and faculty biases towards students (Ormand, 2018). More attention is being devoted to the reasoning behind these biases. It was found that multiple factors that originate during childhood offset female interest in STEM careers (Wang, & Degol, 2017).

II. Stereotypes

One factor that alters female interest in STEM is due to media. The information found in study, “Assessing Media Influences on Middle School–Aged Children’s Perceptions of Women in Science Using the DAST,” discovered that the smallest thing of children seeing scientists on TV shows being male, lead children to believe that males are better suited for being a scientist than females (Steinke, Lapinski, Crocker, Zietsman-Thomas, Williams, Evergreen,& Kuchibhotla, 2007). The ideas expressed by the two previous studies led to a broader conceptualization that females are vulnerable to the stereotype threat. The stereotype threat is centered on the finding that awareness of a competence-related stereotype can, in and of itself, lead to poorer task performance (Why). In the context of STEM, females in feel threatened because their performance may conform to themselves, other people, or both the negative performance expectations about the group. This results in negative effects on performance can occur even when women report that they do not believe the stereotypes are true. It has shows that stereotypes lower interest in STEM fields (Smith, Sansone, & White, 2007). It is shown that these stereotypes create a bad work environment for females. Not only are females subjected to the stereotypes and biases through their female peers, the Harvard Business Review explains that women in the STEM field tend to distance themselves from other women after facing discrimination (Williams, 2017).

Motivational Factors

I. Careers

There is a growing body of evidence that shows how important it is for school districts to educate students on STEM careers. It has been shown that a large majority of middle school students do not acquire enough knowledge on STEM occupations and the activities that the specific career involves (Blotnicky, Franz-Odendaal, Frederick, & Joy, 2018). In agreeance with this statement the National Center for Biotechnology Information shown that there is a strong correlation of students that have high STEM career knowledge and choosing a STEM career (Blotnicky, Franz-Odendaal, Frederick, & Joy, 2018). A study by Robert H. Tai, associate professor Dept. of curriculum, instruction, and special education, advances the notion that on the importance of STEM education. He concluded that middle school students that have anticipated to enter a STEM related career in the future obtained degrees in this field at higher rates than those who did not have this expectation (Tai, Liu, Maltese, & Fan, 2011).

II. Lifestyle choices

An additional factor that illustrates gender differences in lifestyle choices is the priorities that males and females have between family and career. It is found that women more than men adjust their careers for family life (Parker,2015). Previous research findings show that an equally compared male and female that are matched highly in both mathematically ability and STEM interest, lifestyle choices diverged as the individual entered their mid 30’s (Ferriman, Lubinski,& Benbow, 2009). A reasoning for this is due to the STEM career not being as flexible as others when starting to form their family goals; therefore, the individual tends to leave their job and search for a part time job to take care of their family. It was found that 43 % of women and 23% of men leave their careers in STEM between four to seven years of having their first child (Wadley, 2019). These findings conclude that an ounce career driven individual can become a family centered individual when they become parents.

Research Question


The researcher could assume that using the same techniques as used in the study by the Jornal of Pre-College Engineering Research would produce similar results in Hampton Township School District (Ing, Aschbacher, & Tsai, 2014). Additionally, the researcher would assume that the interest that men prefer working with things and women prefer working with people (Rong, & James, 2015). Lastly, it will be assumed that with the increase in STEM engagement programs in a school environment there will be more engamment.


All in all, research on the issue of highschool aged interest in science, technology, engineering, and math has an overall emphasis on the issue of the gender gap. The topic of interest in STEM is becoming increasingly important as current estimates suggest future growth and demand in careers that emphasize science, technology, engineering and math (National). It has been found that females are close to closing the gap in social sciences and biosciences; however, men greatly outnumber women in computer science and engineering (Cummins, 2015). Therefore, analyzing why highschoolers choose theirs college majors is important to aim for equality in the STEM workforce. Overall, this research will aim to answer the gap: does gender relate to Hampton High School upperclassmen students interest in STEM related college majors?


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  2. Blotnicky1, K. A., Franz-Odendaal2, T., Frederick, & Joy4, P. (2018, May 16). A study of the correlation between STEM career knowledge, mathematics self-efficacy, career interests, and career activities on the likelihood of pursuing a STEM career among middle school students. Retrieved from
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  4. Cummins, D. (2015, April 17). Column: Why the STEM gender gap is overblown. Retrieved from
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  6. Ferriman, K., Lubinski, D., & Benbow, C. P. (2009). Work Preferences, Life Values, and Personal Views of Top Math/Science Graduate Students and the Profoundly Gifted: Developmental Changes and Gender Differences During Emerging Adulthood and Parenthood. Retrieved from
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  14. Reauthorization of Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act. (2007, March 16). Retrieved from
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  17. Wadley, J. (2019, February 20). Study finds parenthood affects STEM jobs, but not just mothers. Retrieved from
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  22. Wyss, L.|Heulskamp, V., Diane|Siebert, & J., C. (2012, September 30). Increasing Middle School Student Interest in STEM Careers with Videos of Scientists. Retrieved from


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