A recent study points out a so-called “gender-equality paradox”: there are more women in STEM in countries with lower gender equality. Why do women make up 40 percent of engineering majors in Jordan, but only 34 percent in Sweden and 19 percent in the U.S.? The researchers suggest that women are just less interested in STEM, and when liberal Western countries let them choose freely, they freely choose different fields.
We disagree. It’s no surprise that women are less “interested” in fields where they will be paid less money for work that will be less valued, and where men are skeptical that these gender biases even exist.
Rather than reveal a paradox, this research helpfully illustrates that the barriers that keep women out of government or the boardroom may not be the same barriers that keep them out of science.
From cradle to classroom, a wealth of research shows that the environment has a major influence on girls’ interest and ability in math and science. Early in school, teachers’ unconscious biases subtly push girls away from STEM. By their preteen years, girls outperform boys in science class and report equal interest in the subject, but parents think that science is harder and less interesting for their daughters than their sons, and these misconceptions predict their children’s career choices.
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