Last year the Institute For Fiscal Studies published a report stating that children who are good at maths at the age of 10 will go on to earn 7% more at 30 than an “otherwise identical” child. It’s worrying then, with the already existing salary gap, that girls are trailing behind boys in maths in many developed countries. The latest results from the OECD Pisa Test show that in most countries girls underperform boys in mathematics; among the highest-achieving students, the gender gap in favour of boys is even wider.
Nature vs. Nurture
But boys are not innately better at maths than girls right? For a long time, the performance gap in maths between boys and girls was explained using nature and biology. Boys were more logical, and girls more creative. Recently though, more and more research supports the nurture over nature argument. If this is true (which I think it is), it’s really scary that according to code.org, the cultural side is getting worse. The numbers are terrifying and fewer girls are doing maths, physics and computer subjects at school here in the UK.
Last year, the UK education minister Liz Truss, said the gender gap is a result of girls’ lack of confidence in themselves. This makes me think sometimes even the best role models cannot counteract the societal and cultural pressures faced by girls. There may be a clear link between confidence and performance, but despite the bleak figures there is hope.
Social Equality and Equality in STEM
If we look at the figures on a global scale, the maths gender gap in certain countries is almost non-existent. These are the countries that also happen to offer more equal opportunities and resources to men and women. The general correlation has been found that in more equitable societies, the STEM gender gap is significantly reduced. In countries like Iceland, Sweden and Norway the results from various tests show no difference in how girls and boys perform, whereas in countries like Turkey and even the UK, girls scored on average 23 and 14 points less than boys respectively.
I know that here in the UK, we like to think of ourselves as forward thinking, equal and progressive – and to a certain extent we are – but the numbers speak for themselves. Girls are not worse than boys at STEM subjects, but it’s difficult to be the first girl doing a Physics A-Level if none of your girlfriends are. It can’t be down to the individual alone to change the view of society. Although young girls all over the country and the world are already going against the trend, something needs to happen on a larger scale.
The way we view girls in media influences the way girls look at themselves.
We have to ask ourselves what can by done by government, locally in our communities, through schools and parenting, as well as on social media to change the culture and perceptions of girls in STEM. Only then will we be able to offer equal opportunities and give girls the chance to prove gender doesn’t matter.