Girls in PEMC Fields: Confidence, not Ability, is the Problem

Fagjun | Published 2017-04-06 22:24

A study has found that girls rate their mathematical ability to be lower than that of boys. This happens even though there is no actual evidence that the girls are any worse at math. The lack of confidence that girls have may explain why there are fewer girls in PEMC fields (physical, engineering, mathematics and computer sciences) than there are boys.

For a long time, there's been a stereotype that boys are generally better at math and hard sciences than girls. As a result, many fields are very male-dominated. It seems that many girls may have internalized this prejudicial belief, which hinders them from reaching their potential.

Why There's a Lack of Girls in PEMC Fields

You're not really intimidated by math. You just think that you are.
[Photo by Roman Mager]

To measure the confidence of girls in themselves when it comes to math, the researchers followed high school students in a longitudinal study. Researchers tracked the students for six years—all throughout high school and two years after. 10Th and 12th grade students answered surveys regarding how they feel about their skill in math.

The results of the study found that among the best students in math, boys rate their capabilities higher than girls do. Thus, the boys showed more confidence in their ability to tackle higher math problems. The boys' average self-rating was 27% higher than that of the girls.

The researchers note that as boys grow up, people around them encourage them to take risks and pursue challenges. Girls, however, are encouraged not to make mistakes and be perfect. Girls tend to judge themselves and endure the judgment of others when they fail.

Lack of confidence may be what's affecting the lack of girls in PEMC fields. The researchers observed the students at a crucial time in their life. They were applying for colleges, considering majors, and charting their future career. Lead author Lara Perez-Felkner says that confidence “influences whether they choose colleges that are strong in certain science majors. It also influences the majors they intend to pursue and the majors they actually declare and continue on with in degrees and potential careers."

Engaging Girls and Developing Their Self-Confidence

Marie Curie's portrait for her Nobel Prize, 1903
To encourage them and keep their interest in science, girls need to know more about women scientists.

In the past decades, more women than men have been enrolling in college. More women also attain degrees than men. However, there are still fewer girls in PEMC fields. In fact, only 4.7% of girls declare a PEMC major, compared to 14.9 of boys. Researchers claim that the lack of women in these fields also influences the disparity in pay between men and women.

Thus, engaging girls from a young age and keeping their interest in science may lead to an increase of women in male-dominated fields. The researchers suggest giving girls in middle and high school more opportunities to participate in higher math and science classes. Bringing female scientists, whether real of fictional, to girls' attentions may also be beneficial. These efforts can make girls more interested in pursuing higher education and careers in PEMC fields.

So if you're a girl interested in math and science, don't second-guess yourself. The only thing standing between you and a shining white lab coat is your own belief in yourself.

Hey! Where are you going?? Subscribe!

Get weekly science updates in your inbox!