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Study: Why girls are less likely to choose a STEM career

"The next step may be to encourage parents to teach their young children maths alongside reading.”

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Cute smiling african school kid girl wearing headphones virtual distance learning online listening remote education digital class doing homework studying at home classroom sitting at desk with laptop.
This gender gap may be decided in the early years of childhood. (Ground Picture/Shutterstock)

By Gwyn Wright via SWNS

Girls are less likely to go into science or maths as a career as they are pushed towards language and arts from a very young age, according to a new study.

On average, parents spent more time with girls than boys, which may be explained by the fact they were usually better at sitting still and focusing.

Also, parents of girls were 18 percent more likely to report that their child enjoyed teaching sessions.

But parents were more likely to spend time teaching their daughters about languages, which could drive them away from the sciences, according to a new study.

As a result, fewer women end up working in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) than men, the study suggests.

Now researchers in California have found this gender gap may be decided in the early years of childhood.

Clever young woman solving a mathematical problem standing with her back to the camera writing on a college blackboard
The survey involved 2,185 children and 953 parents, mostly from Chicago, IL. (ESB Professional/Shutterstock)

Co-author associate professor Dr. Anya Samek at the University of California San Diego said: "We find girls are better in English than boys in grades three through seven.

"Because girls are more likely to do well in language fields early in life, they may find themselves more inclined to choose them for majors and careers.

"Thus, women may be underrepresented in STEM in part because of their cultivated talents achieved earlier in life.”

A survey involving 2,185 children and 953 parents, mostly from Chicago, was carried out by the researchers.

The survey examined how much time parents spent with their children between the ages of three and five.

It also collected test scores obtained from 702 children while in school between the ages of eight and 14.

The more time parents spent teaching their children aged three to five, the better they performed on school tests, the researchers found.

Sitting down with kids for three hours or more a week boosted their Year 5 grades in English by six percent.

Girls performed "substantially better" in language-related studies than boys, while maths scores remained relatively equal between sexes.

Dr. Samek said: “I think it’s surprising to see that parental investments are correlated with test scores in English but not in maths.

"It could be because we’re told to read to our kids at least 10 minutes a day.

"We’re told to introduce them to books and I think we probably spend less time thinking about how to engage children in maths.”

Girls' language superiority could explain why fewer women than men pursue a career in STEM later in life.

Dr. Samek added: "We show that early-life investments by parents are strongly associated with later-life language skills but only weakly associated with later-life maths skills.

"It could be that parents just do not spend as much time teaching children maths as they do reading.

"If that is the case, the next step may be to encourage parents to teach their young children maths alongside reading.”

The findings were published in the journal American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings.

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