U.S. middle-school girls outperform boys at STEM, so why are there so few women working in those fields?

“Whether you blame a lack of women pursuing STEM work or a bias against their doing so, both of these issues are rooted in cultural notions about women’s interest and ability in these subjects,” Jillian Berman reports for MarketWatch.

“New research adds to a growing body of evidence that these stereotypes aren’t based in reality,” Berman reports. “Overall, girls actually outperformed boys on average in a nationwide assessment of eighth-grader technology and engineering skills, according to data released Tuesday by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. As part of the first-ever technology and engineering literacy test, 21,500 eighth-graders across the country were asked to use their skills to solve real-world technology and engineering scenarios such as planning for a safer bike route. The assessment found that 45% of eighth-grade girls were at least proficient at these tasks, compared with 42% of eighth-grade boys.”

“Women received slightly less than 20% of the engineering degrees awarded in the U.S. in 2014, according to the American Society for Engineering Education. Women account for roughly 30% of the workers at Apple, Facebook and Google parent Alphabet. The share of women shrinks slightly as workers ascend the ranks,” Berman reports. “So why the discrepancy between STEM skills among ‘tween’ girls and their representation in STEM fields as adults? The answer is somewhat complex. Girls may be internalizing societal messages at a very young age that they’re not suited for STEM fields, despite their skills.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science to see if they’d like to pursue it or not. Check out what code.org offers today!

Boys aspire to work in IT, girls find it boring – April 29, 2016
Apple turns retail stores into coding classrooms – December 7, 2015
Hour of Code: Apple offers free one-hour coding classes at retail stores on December 11 – December 9, 2013


  1. All 5 of my sisters were excellent at STEM, graduated college, and chose a more noble path: to become stay-at-home mothers. Perhaps others like them have chosen the same thing. Motherhood is the noblest profession.

    1. Having worked at Apple for years, and done software contract projects for other big tech companies as well as lots of startups, I have observed that the folks who truly excel at STEM are often men. Sure, this is partly due to historical and present biases in hiring and in educational guidance, but at the spiky high end of the curve, it’s just because the Autism Spectrum and Aspergers affect lots more men then women.

      Nearly all of the best engineers I’ve known were way off in the weeds in the Spectrum.

    2. Let’s be clear then, ankanipedro: you are arguing that women who choose to work at all are morally inferior (or at least less “noble”) than those who choose to work.

      Gee, I wonder how that kind of attitude plays out in subconscious (or perhaps even conscious) unfair treatment of women in the workplace.

    3. I think that it is fair to say that it should be up to NO ONE except the woman herself to choose her vocation in life. If a woman decides to follow the vocation of motherhood, or of a career, or if she is the rare, exceptional woman who can do both successfully, then more power to her in any of the above cases.

      What really gets me upset is those who try to coerce women – or anyone else, for that matter – into a vocation that they didn’t choose. The point is to give everyone the maximum opportunity consonant with their skills and abilities, not to criticize either those who opt for very traditional roles, those who blaze new trails, or anyone in between.

  2. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. If their test shows girls outperforming boys in those subjects, they need to take a closer look at the test. Most previous tests have shown the opposite to be true.

    1. You nailed it. Look at the one example they give as sample question: “real-world technology and engineering scenarios such as planning for a safer bike route” What?!?!!? Where is the engineering, technology or math?

      The purpose of this study is to create a new reality.

      1. I’m guessing you are male. One of the brightest people I knew when I was in high school graduated magna cum laude at one of the two or three best Metallurgical Engineering colleges in the world, and then applied for a job at the largest American metal smelting and refining company. They offered her a position as a secretary. Things are better now, but only relatively better. Yes, it is an issue.

        The real question isn’t whether all women want to be engineers or scientists. If they want to be stay-at-home moms, more power to them. They are lucky to be in the minority of American households that can prosper on a single paycheck.

        The issue is whether women who do want to work (or need to work), and who possess all of the skills of their male counterparts, should be treated differently just because they don’t fit a stereotype of feminine behavior. The same thing would apply to somebody excluded from a basketball team because “white men can’t jump,” even though he was demonstrably the best jumper who tried out.

    2. In my district, the teaching techniques have been changed to focus on girls learning and not boys. The schools have moved toward a collaborative leaning style that benefits girls and not boys. While the girls scores keep going up, the boys go down. As long as that that trend continues, the girls will keep doing better and better.

      This is better girl performance, by design.

      As much as I hate to say it, separate classroom are needed in some classes. The teaching techniques used can focus on the students in those classes. One for boys, one for girls. Overall, better scores and smarter kids result. (Of course nobody would actually implement anything like that…)

      1. And this is why boys and girls are STILL educated separately at the secondary school level in most parts of the world – because there ARE sex-based differences in learning. The danger is that there is an opportunity for coercion which goes hand in hand with the different learning methods.

  3. I work in a behavioral program in a high school. Based on experience over the years, I would suggest that it stems from the decrease in maturity levels of boys, accelerating in the last 10 years.

    No there may not be a specific peer reviewed study on it, its just the truth experienced by those of us who actually work with it every day.

  4. Is it possible that up until the end of eighth grade, physiologically the boys and girls are practically the same? But after adolescence the difference is amplified between the sexes. That’s when the things that classically appeal to separate genders become more appealing to each gender, thus causing the disparity in their pursuits in high school, college and careers. The biological reproductive strategies of the male is to make something of himself so that he can attract a mate. The biological strategy of the female is to select a good mate with the most likelihood of being a good father and husband.

    It may not have to do so much with some nefarious cause such as sexism, culturalism, or whatever, instead it may be just hard wired biological preference instilled by evolution.

  5. That’s one question. A better one is, Are female STEM workers as good as male? Another good one is, Should women be STEM workers at all? And my personal favourite, Why do studies of gender in the workplace generate so much more heat than light?

  6. My 2 cents with a similar situation that may be partly the answer.

    I used to help teach archery in the schools 4 to 8th grade before heading on to high school. At the beginning and all thru 8th grade we have great attendance and close to 50% girls.

    At the high school we would lose close to 2/3 of the students, mostly girls. It was a bunch more sports, marching band and cheer leading.

    Having all these extra choices pulled their interests into different directions.

    1. I would guess that the girls who stuck with archery (and with STEM) found it harder to get dates or get into the best cliques than those who became cheerleaders and majorettes. As Derek Currie said, that is our culture. Girls are expected to fill “feminine” roles, and if they do not do “what girls do,” society exacts a penalty. (The same thing happens to heterosexual males who have an aptitude for fashion or interior design.) Most individuals, male or female, will take the path of least resistance.

  7. Or how about another important question resulting from this study:
    Why are our boys performing so poorly? Nobody ever seems to wonder about that. Why is male literacy dropping? Why are 67% of college students female?
    Stop leaving our boys behind and ignoring them!

  8. Girls are not just expected to fill feminine roles, they get huge pay-off to do so. a All the attention, attraction and opportunities that open up is totally intoxicating. I think that’s another reason young women exceed young men’s academic achievements: most women do not have to invest much time competing for sex, they can take it for granted. Most men on the other hand know themselves NOT to be desirable, and end up in endless macho competition for women’s attention.

  9. I think it is a mistake to put so many different things under the same umbrella. For starters, there is no STEM education in eight grade. You may learn Math, Physics and Biology, but that qualifies as Science and Math, not Technology or Engineering. The distinction seems important to me, because what I have seen is that there are many girls who are excellent at math, theoretical physics and biology, but I don’t see the same levels of interest in building things (engineering and technology).Of course there are many exceptions, but in general the problem is not lack of interest in understanding, but more in building.Just my $0.02c, from anecdotical observations.

  10. Dear MDN,
    Why only computer science? Why not physics, or chemistry, or biology, or quantum mechanics, or architecture, or any other Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics?

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