Unlike the social sciences, which are overwhelmingly women, and life sciences, which are about 50-50, the hard sciences have a true gender disparity and the search is always on for reasons why.
Most parents and many teachers believe that if middle-school and high-school girls show no interest in science or math, there's little anyone can do about it but new research indicates that self-confidence instilled by parents and teachers is more important for young girls than their initial interest.
While interest is certainly a factor in getting older girls to study and pursue a career in these disciplines, more attention should be given to building confidence in their abilities early in their education, says University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee Distinguished Professor Nadya Fouad. She is one of the authors of a three-year study aimed at identifying supports and barriers that steer girls toward or away from science and math during their education.
It's a high-priority question for members of organizations like the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Research Council as they ponder how to improve the numbers of women in STEM careers – science, technology, engineering and math.