Women who like ‘The X-Files’ more likely to work in STEM: study

Agent Dana Scully (played by Gillian Anderson) has been found to influence women to pursue careers in STEM. FOX via Getty Images

Parents of girls who they hope will grow up to work in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering and math) should dust off their X-Files DVDs or cue up Netflix, because a new study has found that women who watched the sci-fi drama were 50 per cent more likely to work in STEM.

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Conducted by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and 21st Century Fox, the study verified the theory of “The Scully Effect,” the belief that the influx of women in STEM jobs was a result of being exposed to the Dr. Dana Scully character, played by Gillian Anderson, on The X-Files.

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“Scully was one of the first multidimensional female characters in a STEM field to be featured on a popular television show, and the first to play a leading role,” the study notes. “She is known for her objectivity, skepticism, confidence and brilliance.”

“In the world of entertainment media, where scientists are often portrayed as white men wearing white coats and working alone in labs, Scully stood out in the 1990s as the only female STEM character in a prominent, prime time television role.”

The study polled more than 2,000 women over the age of 25 in order to ensure they were exposed to the original show or the current seasons, and were old enough to be in the post-university workforce. Not only did it find that half of the women polled were more likely to have worked in a STEM field, but 63 per cent of respondents also said that the Scully character increased their belief in the importance of STEM.

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“That’s really a societal norm shift,” said Madeline Di Nonno, CEO of the Geena Davis Institute, in a statement.

In addition, 91 per cent of respondents said they believe Scully is a positive role model for girls and women; 63 per cent of women who work in STEM said she was their role model and that her character increased their confidence that they could excel in a male-dominated profession. The most frequently used words to describe her were “intelligent,” “smart” and “strong.”

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“Characters’ images and story lines in media shape our everyday lives in very profound ways,” Di Nonno said. “In the case of ‘The Scully Effect,’ it shows that when, in media, we have non-traditional roles for women and girls, it helps them envision these pathways for themselves.”

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According to the 2011 National Household Survey, women accounted for only 39 per cent of all STEM university graduates in Canada.

Maybe it’s time to start screening The X-Files in schools.

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