Science, technology, engineering and math: for many students, especially
young women, achievement in the "STEM" subjects will be the key
to high growth rates, higher paying jobs and career advancement in the knowledge economy.
Yet for years girls have under-performed at these subjects: dropping out early, expressing low interest, opting out of STEM degrees in college and out of STEM careers as college grads. There's even a name for this: the "leaky pipeline."
It's not that girls can't achieve. In fact, girls not only score as well as boys in elementary school, but in societies abroad where math and science achievement is valued equally in both sexes, they continue to do well throughout their educational careers.
Nor is it just the result of patriarchal school systems. Millions have been invested in improving a host of external education variables of this nature that may be holding girls back: hostility in the computer room, lack of female role models, masculine pedagogical models, etc. In some cases, high schools have even refused to let girls drop STEM classes, which has only succeeded in delaying the problem until they matriculate.
What could be causing elementary school girls who excel at math and who love science, to suddenly lose all interest or develop low grades in these subjects in late adolescence and early teens?
One important and under-explored answers is feminine gender norms. As girls age, they internalize gender norms that force them to make a choice between excelling at STEM or being feminine. And STEM loses. This report documents the existing literature and surveys the problem in depth, including results from new focus group studies with young women of color.
(Courtesy of support by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.)