Title

Gender Gap in STEM Occupations: An Analysis of the Educational Timeline of Student Perceptions of Mathematics and Science

Date of Award

4-19-2017

Degree Type

Archival Copy

First Advisor

Ira Silver

Abstract

There is a clear gender gap in today’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) college majors and professional careers. According to the United States Department of Commerce, in 2011 women held less than 25 percent of all STEM jobs, even though women held close to half of all the jobs in the United States. With women holding only one fourth of the STEM field occupations in the U.S, it makes one question what is causing such an unequal gender representation in the STEM workforce. In order to understand the gender gap in STEM careers, the researcher went back and looked through the educational pipeline to pinpoint where females started to become less interested in STEM majors and careers than their male counterparts. This study aimed to answer the questions: What social forces influence individuals’ attitudes and performance in science and math classes through each stage of education? How do those influences differ by gender? Through an extensive literature reviewed and interviews conducted with current college students, the researcher aimed to answer these questions. The literature review is organized by stages of schooling: elementary school, middle school, high school, and college. While the review discusses data specifically about that particular stage, the interviews draw connections across these stages. 18 interviews with current college students at Framingham State University were conducted. Of these 18 students, three were female mathematics majors, three were male mathematics majors, three were female science majors, three were male science majors, three were female non-STEM majors, and three were male non-STEM majors. After conducting an extensive review of the literature and interview data collected by the researcher, the influence of education experiences began to explain the gender gap in STEM careers. Overall, females begin to fall out of the STEM occupation pipeline in middle school, when they begin to form negative perceptions of mathematics and science due to influences from achievements, parents and teacher experiences, gender stereotyping, and anxieties towards mathematics and science. For males, they are more likely than their female counterparts to have positive perceptions of mathematics and science throughout their education up until college, which is where male students are more likely than their female counterparts to drop mathematics and science majors. However, males are still more likely than their female counterparts to graduate college with a STEM major, thus more likely to have a career in the STEM fields.

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