TORONTO – Women represent the majority of university graduates but are still underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer sciences (STEM) fields, according to a new study from Statistics Canada.
“Women are always less likely to choose a STEM program, regardless of mathematical ability,” wrote Darcy Hango, a researcher in the Centre for Education Statistics at Statistics Canada.
“This stands in contrast to nearly all other fields of study, where women now represent the vast majority of graduates—especially in health and social science programs.”
According to the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS), women accounted for 39 per cent of university graduates aged 25 to 34 with a STEM degree in 2011, compared with 66 per cent of university graduates in non-STEM programs.
The study found that among women who choose to pursue a degree in STEM, most do so in biology or science programs, resulting in even fewer women in engineering, computer science and mathematics programs.
“These choices have consequences, as fields of study such as engineering and computer science lead, on average, to better outcomes in the labour market in terms of employment, job match and earning,” said the report.
Most STEM university graduates are men
Young adults are more and more likely to obtain a university degree, regardless of gender.
“Women have made gains much more rapidly than men in recent years,” said the study.
In 1991, the proportion of men and women between the ages of 25 to 34 who had a university degree was about the same, around 16 per cent. By 2011, the proportion had increased to 37 per cent among women and 27 per cent among men.
While the share of female university graduates has increased in nearly all fields of study, including STEM programs, women still represented 66 per cent of all non-STEM graduates and “thus proportionately under-represented among STEM graduates, at least compared with other fields.”
Why are women staying away from STEM programs?
Regardless of mathematical ability, the study found that it does not explain gender differences in STEM choices.
“Young women with a high level of mathematical ability are significantly less likely to enter STEM fields than young men, even young men with a lower level of mathematical ability,” wrote Hango.
Hango suggests that the gender gap in STEM-related programs is due to other factors and possible explanations might include differences in labour market expectations including family and work balance, differences in motivation and interest, and other influences.