Women’s underrepresentation in high-paying IT and engineering jobs – which likely contributes to the gender wage gap – could be traced back to high school subject choices, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Melbourne found that girls are less likely to choose one of the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) than boys, despite many of them testing better in these areas.
In their report titled “Gendered Selection of STEM Subjects for Matriculation,” authors Moshe Justman and Susan Mendez sought to find out what role high school subject selection plays in driving both career paths and the wage gap. They followed about 58,000 students in seventh grade in 2008 and examined their STEM subject choices before their high school graduation in 2013.
Results showed that given the chance to choose, girls in general were less likely to take subjects such as specialist mathematics, information technology or physics.
“We found that girls simply aren’t doing the subjects required in order to launch a career in the highly paid engineering or IT industries,” Mendez says.
Even girls performing well at math emerged less likely to select the said subjects than their equally skilled male counterparts. Those who did choose the subjects, however, outperformed the boys on average.
This might as well debunk the popular belief that girls do not pick these subjects because they lack the necessary smarts in math, added Mendez.
According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2015 of the World Economic Forum, the gender wage gap remains huge, with women around the world still paid just above half the average male wage.
In the United States alone, women hold less than one-quarter of all STEM jobs – a figure that is still quite higher than in the United Kingdom, where women comprise less than 15 percent of all people in the industry.
The gap is attributed to women not studying STEM subjects, as well as motherhood and family affecting women’s career choices. Mothers are believed to suffer a so-called motherhood penalty, where they are perceived to be less committed and competent in their work.
A separate study on wage gap demonstrated that college graduates from poor families benefit less from their college degree – through wages – than their wealthier peers.
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