Jovanovic, J., & Bhanot, R. (2008). Gender Differences in Science. In K. Tobin, & W. Roth (Vol Eds.) (Eds.) The World of Science Education: Handbook of Research in North America (Rotterdam: SensePublishers, in preparation).
Despite years of progress toward educational equity for girls and women, there continues to be a serious gender gap in females’ participation in science. At the college level, where women represent more than half the students enrolled, they continue to be underrepresented in many math and science-related fields (National Science Foundation, 2007). The most obvious under-representation is in engineering where women earn only 20% the bachelor’s degrees. Similarly, women account for only 25% of the bachelor’s degrees in computer science and 22% of the bachelor’s degrees in physics (American Institute of Physics, 2007). Although, these percentages indicate an overall increase in the representation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields as compared to 30 years ago, it can be argued that such increases are not good enough. Ultimately, there are considerable economic losses for girls and women because of their unequal participation in traditionally male-dominated technological fields. At the same time, there is growing concern that the US may lose its competitive edge in science and technology if we fail to increase the number of students—both males and females—involved in science. In this chapter we begin by reporting current national trends in girls’ and boys’ science performance that are traditionally highlighted as accounting for the “leaky pipeline” leading to careers in STEM fields. In the remainder of the chapter we present a review of research that looks at alternative explanations for these gender differences in science. Specifically, we consider the significance of girls’ science attitudes and the pervasive influence—both direct and indirect—of science stereotypes. We consider the research that has addressed the significance of stereotypes both in the classroom and at home, where parents’ gendered expectations about their children’s ability in academically stereotyped domains might help to explain girls’ lower confidence and interest in science.