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Freedom of choice

Study finds women in countries with better gender equality are less likely to pursue STEM careers

By WITW Staff on February 27, 2018

Women in countries with less gender equality have been found to be more likely to pursue jobs in science and technology than women in more gender-equal societies, a seeming paradox that is attracting the interest of feminists and psychologists alike. But according to a new study published in Psychological Science, a correlation between gender inequality and societies without government safety nets for the poor may provide an explanation.

In the study, psychologists Gijsbert Stoet from Leeds Beckett University and David Geary from the University of Missouri found that girls performed as well or better than boys during tests on STEM subjects across 67 countries and regions. But despite testing as well or better than the boys, only 49 percent of girls had science or math as their best subject compared to 80 percent of boys. This discrepancy, it turned out, was accounted for by girls having significantly higher reading scores than the boys — reading was the best subject for 51 percent of girls, compared to just 20 percent of boys.

The reason women in more egalitarian societies go into STEM fields at a lower rate than those in less-equal societies, Stoet and Geary believe, is because they are more likely to be able to pursue careers that they enjoy rather than what would make them the most money. In less gender-equal societies, the authors note, women have less access to safety nets such as welfare and are more likely to pursue STEM fields out of interest for the financial independence that they offer.

“Some would say that the gender stem gap occurs not because girls can’t do science, but because they have other alternatives, based on their strengths in verbal skills,” explained Janet Shibley Hyde, a gender-studies professor at the University of Wisconsin who was involved in the study. “In wealthy nations, they believe that they have the freedom to pursue those alternatives and not worry so much that they pay less.”

Read the full story at The Atlantic.

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