Gender disparities in computer science and engineering fields contribute to both societal inequities and the gender wage gap. A recent study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looks at the extent to whether these disparities start with stereotypes about interests among boys and girls.
The researchers—Allison Master of the University of Houston and Andrew N. Meltzoff, and Sapna Cheryan of the University of Washington—performed a series of studies to measure when stereotypes about boys’ and girls’ interests develop and how these stereotypes predict individual interest in computer science.
They found that the notion that girls are less interested in computer science and engineering than boys is present as early as first grade and extends across racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups. It is endorsed more strongly and is more predictive than stereotypes about the differences in ability across gender lines. Girls who embraced the idea were less likely to express interest in computer science activities, whereas boys who endorsed it were more likely to express interest.
These results suggest that such stereotypes may be a contributing factor toward gender disparities in these fields. Elementary school is an important time to introduce young girls to computer science and engineering activities and address the stereotypes that may keep them from pursuing these topics.
-By Bella DiMarco
Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.