Gender-equality paradox

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The gender-equality paradox describes how increased gender differences have been observed in countries that are more progressive in terms of gender roles[1][2][3]. The gender-equality paradox most commonly refers to the findings of a 2018 study by Gijsbert Stoet and David C. Geary[1][4][5] that, counter-intuitively, suggests that countries with a higher level of gender equality tend to have less gender balance in fields such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), than less equal countries. This research originally claimed that within the study's sample, more gender equality in a country is linked with a lower proportion of women studying STEM fields. The study and its results received significant coverage in non-academic media outlets.[6][7][8][9] However, separate Harvard researchers were unable to recreate the data reported in the study, and in December 2019, a correction was issued to the original paper.[10][11][12] The correction outlined that the authors had created a previously undisclosed and unvalidated method to measure "propensity" of women and men to attain a higher degree in STEM, as opposed to the originally claimed measurement of "women’s share of STEM degrees".[11][10][13] However, even incorporating the newly disclosed method, the investigating researchers could not recreate all the results presented.[14][15] A follow-up paper by the researchers who discovered the discrepancy found conceptual and empirical problems with the gender-equality paradox in STEM hypothesis.[16][14]

Stoet and Geary (2018) study[edit]

Methodology and findings[edit]

The study conducted an analysis of the 2015 results (n=472,242 across 67 nations/regions) of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the largest educational survey of its kind, focusing on the results of questions based on science aptitude and attitudes. This was contrasted with the level of gender equality as defined by the Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI).

The study had a number of primary findings. These can be summarized as follows:

  • Girls performed similarly or better than boys in two out of every three countries, and were more capable of STEM tertiary education in nearly all countries examined.
  • Science or mathematics is much more likely to be a personal academic strength for boys than for girls
  • More girls entered STEM degrees then graduated.
  • The difference between both the performance of girls in PISA was inversely related to the country's GGGI.
  • This gap was found to be correlated with the STEM graduation gap, showing that there is a similar gap between the number of girls and boys that enter STEM university programmes compared to those that complete their degrees in more gender-equal countries.

It's important to note that the absolute size of the gap found was not shown to be significant. Rather it is the relative relationship between the two that was found to show an effect. In other words, no relation was found between the total number of girls who entered and completed STEM degrees and the GGGI of the country. Rather, the effect was between the relative difference in number of girls vs. boys who entered and completed STEM degrees, and the GGGI of their country.

Possible causes and criticism[edit]

The authors suggest two possible, related causes for the unexpected finding. The first relates to expectancy-value theory which suggests that students determine further education choices based on their relative strengths. Expectancy-value theory is often used to explain the difference in occupational choices between men and women.[17] Thus, the difference would be explained by girls choosing subjects at which they are relatively stronger than STEM fields. In other words, when comparing individual students' aptitude in various areas, girls feel they are stronger in non-STEM areas. An additional explanation put forth by the authors is that the effect is further increased in societies with lower life satisfaction, as defined by the OECD Better Life Index. A cursory statistical analysis confirmed an effect between them. The rationale here would be that students make more economically motivated decisions when experiencing lower life satisfaction. Thus, in wealthier, and more gender-equal societies, students feel freer to choose study based on their interests, rather than economic motivating factors.

Longitudinal studies of the same data set that was analyzed by Stoet and Geary investigated the results of implicit-association tests[18][19] (IAT), which measured perceived differences in gender. No relationship was found between interest in STEM, as reported via PISA, and perceived differences in gender according to IAT.[18][19] This suggests that the perception of gender-related stereotypes might have no effect on career choice.[18][19] Contrary to this study, another study measured both stronger implicit gender stereotypes as measured by the IAT as well as explicit stereotypes measured by a simple questionnaire in different countries and showed an inverse relation to the representation of women in science in those countries.[20]

Other studies have challenged the idea that professed interest is a good measure of intrinsic interest.[21][22][23] For example, one study found that the number of women already in a field predicts the stereotypes people have about that field.[20] Related to this is another study which found a relation between the perceived sexism in a specific degree program and the expressed interest in the field amongst girls considering it.[21] Still further studies have shown that there is a significant overlap between parent and teacher expectations around gender and STEM, and what these children express. For example, one study found that parents were less likely to think their daughters would be interested in STEM areas, and that this belief was a strong predictor of later attitudes and efficacy at science.[22] Still further longitudinal studies found a similar effect between a mother's prediction of her daughter's success in STEM and the daughter's later career choices.[23] Similar analyses of the effects of bias in teachers in associating STEM with boys, rather than girls, was shown to also predict future interest in STEM.[24] Many of these longitudinal studies were performed on middle and high schoolers, showing this effect is present before the age where PISA would be taken.[22][23][24]

Related studies[edit]

Charles and Bradley (2009) study on economic development and gendered study choices[edit]

In 2009, Maria Charles and Karen Bradley conducted data analysis of sex segregation by field of study in 44 societies, finding a higher level of segregation in more economically developed contexts.[2] This result could be relevant to the debate on gender equality and gender balance in study choice, as economic development is linked to gender equality. The authors note that this result seems paradoxical, as it contradicts accounts linking socioeconomic modernization to a "degendering" of public-sphere institutions such as schools and universities.

Falk and Hermle (2018) study on the relation between gendered preferences and gender equality[edit]

In 2018, Armin Falk and Johannes Hermle looked at data on 80,000 people in 76 countries to find out what might influence gender-associated differences in preferences, such as the willingness to take risks, patience, altruism, positive and negative reciprocity.[25][3] Their main observation is that the more equal opportunities there are for women, the more women differ from men in their preferences. These statistical results could help explain Stoet and Geary's finding that women's educational choices diverge from men's in countries with greater gender equality, because greater gender equality could make their preferences diverge from men's.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b Stoet, Gijsbert; Geary, David C. (2018). "The gender-equality paradox in STEM education" (PDF). Psychological Science. 29 (preprint): 581–593. doi:10.1177/0956797617741719. PMID 29442575 – via Leeds Becket Repository.
  2. ^ a b Charles, Maria; Bradley, Karen (January 2009). "Indulging our gendered selves? Sex segregation by field of study in 44 countries". AJS; American Journal of Sociology. 114 (4): 924–976. doi:10.1086/595942. ISSN 0002-9602. PMID 19824299.
  3. ^ a b Willingham, Emily. "When Times Are Good, the Gender Gap Grows". Scientific American. Retrieved 2019-12-24.
  4. ^ Stoet, Gijsbert; Geary, David C. (14 February 2018), "The Gender-Equality Paradox in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education" (PDF), Psychological Science, 29 (4): 581–593, doi:10.1177/0956797617741719, PMID 29442575
  5. ^ Stoet, Gijsbert; Geary, David C. (14 February 2018). "The Gender-Equality Paradox in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education" (PDF). Psychological Science. 29 (4): 581–593. doi:10.1177/0956797617741719. ISSN 0956-7976. PMID 29442575.
  6. ^ Khazan, Olga (2018-02-18). "The More Gender Equality, the Fewer Women in STEM". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2019-12-23.
  7. ^ "Women in gender-equal countries less likely to gain STEM degrees". Times Higher Education (THE). 2018-02-23. Retrieved 2019-12-23.
  8. ^ Timmer, John (2018-02-19). "Women go into science careers more often in countries without gender equality". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2019-12-23.
  9. ^ Taylor, Peter Shawn (March 26, 2019). "Could helping boys be the key to closing the STEM gap?". Maclean's. Retrieved 2019-12-22.
  10. ^ a b Richardson, Meredith Reiches, Sarah S. (2020-02-11). "We Dug Into Data to Disprove a Myth About Women in STEM". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 2020-03-03.
  11. ^ a b "Corrigendum: The Gender-Equality Paradox in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education". Psychological Science. 31 (1): 110–111. 2020-01-01. doi:10.1177/0956797619892892. ISSN 0956-7976. PMID 31809229.
  12. ^ "A Controversial Study Claimed To Explain Why Women Don't Go Into Science And Tech. It Just Got A 1,113-Word Correction". BuzzFeed News. Retrieved 2020-03-03.
  13. ^ "Scholars Debate Causes of Women's Underrepresentation in STEM". The Scientist Magazine®. Retrieved 2020-03-03.
  14. ^ a b "Scholars Debate Causes of Women's Underrepresentation in STEM". The Scientist Magazine®. Retrieved 2020-03-03.
  15. ^ "A Controversial Study Claimed To Explain Why Women Don't Go Into Science And Tech. It Just Got A 1,113-Word Correction". BuzzFeed News. Retrieved 2020-03-03.
  16. ^ Richardson, Sarah S.; Reiches, Meredith W.; Bruch, Joe; Boulicault, Marion; Noll, Nicole E.; Shattuck-Heidorn, Heather (2020-02-11). "Is There a Gender-Equality Paradox in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)? Commentary on the Study by Stoet and Geary (2018)". Psychological Science: 0956797619872762. doi:10.1177/0956797619872762. ISSN 0956-7976. PMID 32043923.
  17. ^ Petersen, J.; Hyde, J. S. (2014). "Gender-Related Academic and Occupational Interests and Goals". In Liben, L. S.; Bigler, R. S. (eds.). The Role of Gender in Educational Contexts and Outcomes. Advances in Child Development and Behavior. 47. pp. 43–76. doi:10.1016/bs.acdb.2014.04.004. ISBN 9780124115828. PMID 25344993.
  18. ^ a b c McCoy, Adam Mastroianni and Dakota. "Countries with Less Gender Equity Have More Women in STEM--Huh?". Scientific American Blog Network. Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  19. ^ a b c "gender". Adam Mastroianni. Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  20. ^ a b Miller, David I.; Eagly, Alice H.; Linn, Marcia C. (2015). "Women's Representation in Science Predicts National Gender-Science Stereotypes: Evidence From 66 Nations" (PDF). Journal of Educational Psychology. 107 (3): 631–644. doi:10.1037/edu0000005.
  21. ^ a b Ganley, Colleen M.; George, Casey E.; Cimpian, Joseph R.; Makowski, Martha B. (2018-06-01). "Gender Equity in College Majors: Looking Beyond the STEM/Non-STEM Dichotomy for Answers Regarding Female Participation". American Educational Research Journal. 55 (3): 453–487. doi:10.3102/0002831217740221. ISSN 0002-8312.
  22. ^ a b c Tenenbaum, Harriet R.; Leaper, Campbell (2003). "Parent-child conversations about science: The socialization of gender inequities?". Developmental Psychology. 39 (1): 34–47. doi:10.1037//0012-1649.39.1.34. ISSN 0012-1649.
  23. ^ a b c Bleeker, Martha M.; Jacobs, Janis E. (2004). "Achievement in Math and Science: Do Mothers' Beliefs Matter 12 Years Later?". Journal of Educational Psychology. 96 (1): 97–109. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.96.1.97. ISSN 0022-0663.
  24. ^ a b Lavy, Victor; Sand, Edith (January 2015). "On The Origins of Gender Human Capital Gaps: Short and Long Term Consequences of Teachers' Stereotypical Biases" (PDF). Cambridge, MA. doi:10.3386/w20909. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  25. ^ Falk, Armin; Hermle, Johannes (2018-10-19). "Relationship of gender differences in preferences to economic development and gender equality". Science. 362 (6412): eaas9899. doi:10.1126/science.aas9899. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 30337384.