A study published in Psychological Science may be the answer to the disparity between male and female workers in math-dominated careers.

Conducted by Thomas Götz and Madeleine Bieg of the University of Konstanz and the Thurgau University of Teacher Education, the survey assessed 5th-11th graders from a set of 700 students. Unlike other studies that have observed male and female reactions to mathematics, the collected data focuses on each participant's generalized perception of their own math anxiety.

Gotz and Bieg found that, despite similar anxiety in real-life situations dealing with math, girls reported more general anxiety toward math than boys reported. This meant that even though girls said that they have more math-related anxiety, they were not actually experiencing more math related-anxiety.

What This Could Mean for the Shortage of Women in STEM Roles

Although women make up 46.7% of the U.S. workforce, they represent less than 25% of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) jobs. The statistic makes sense when considering the results of Gotz and Bieg study. Of course, the implications of the data are only speculative, but the noticeable gender gap in such a young group has researchers searching for the reason for such a disparity. While some suggest the female lack of interest in science and mathematical subjects begins in middle school, research shows it can start much earlier than that.

Cognitive Aspects of Sex-Role Development, a medical thesis developed by Dr. Carter Bruce, shows that gender specific toys, such as a toy kitchen for girls and tool kits for boys, largely contributed to the kind of socialization that imposed developed principles of sex roles.

LEGOS, for instance, a toy company regarded for its encouragement of spatial and creative skills through building and design, has been in the midst of the controversy of gendered toys. The mini figure-heads that give personality to the otherwise faceless LEGO blocks, boast a male to female ratio of 18:1. Their girl-marketed line called Friends, which differed from their typical construction zone and scientific themes, features homes and cafe shops.

Does Social Conditioning Lead to STEM Career Statistics?

Do girls feel like they should be more anxious about math and science because, from a very young age, they have been conditioned to avoid such interests? Leading women in the tech industry suggest so.

During a SXSW discussion in a room of mostly women, Michelle Zatlyn (cofounder of Cloudflare) and Pooja Samkar (CEO of Piazza) to name a few, point to being influenced and encouraged by women who held science, technology, and mathematics positions when they were young.

Kara Swisher, speaker at SXSW and writer for All Things Digital, answers the question of "Where are the women in tech?" with another question: Why don't young girls feel awesome? Or, in light of the Gotz and Bieg study, why do they feel like they should be more anxious about math than boys?

Public Responses

If the actual math achievement of girls from grades 5-11 is similar to their male counterparts, their issue of reported anxiety implies a consequential issue of self-esteem and confidence, a subject that many groups are trying to revolutionize.

  • "Educate To Innovate": The Obama administration is putting a strong emphasis on math and science education for girls. The strategies include training teachers on new interaction approaches and providing customized STEM programs for minority groups.
  • GoldieBlox: A toy set that is engineering-based, GoldieBlox encourages girls to have fun through building.
  • DigiGirlz High Tech Camp: For girls aged 13 and up, this three-day worldwide program includes technology tours, demonstrations, networking opportunities, and hands-on workshops.
  • Net Hope's Women's TechConnect: A program that provides helpful resources for women and girls in developing countries who are interested in STEM careers.

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Sigal Sharf, MS


Date of original publication:

Updated: November 10, 2015