Social Question

burntbonez's avatar

Why are American boys much more likely to see a future in science than American girls?

Asked by burntbonez (5194 points ) February 4th, 2013

The New York Times reported an international test that compared many nations on a test of math and science. In some nations, boys did better than girls—most of these were western nations. In many other nations, girls did better than boys—most of these were Asian and Arabic and Slavic nations.

The article says it is cultural differences that account for these differences. In nations like the United States, the cultural message is that math and science is not for girls, even though they can do just as well at it.

What explains the cultural messages being sent to boys and girls in these different nations? What is the consequence of these cultural messages (notice how US scores, overall, are so much lower than most other Western nations). What can be done about this? What, if anything, should be done about it?

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9 Answers

Jeruba's avatar

That was outspokenly and explicitly the case 50 and more years ago, before the women’s movement and other initiatives began to change ways of thinking. Parents, teachers, and societal expectations in general reinforced the view that the difficult subjects were for boys and that it didn’t much matter what girls studied because they were just marking time until they became wives and mothers whose only real work was in the home.

Girls who wanted to attract boys were discouraged from showing their brains and taught to cater to a boy’s ego. Girls who didn’t go along with that way of thinking had to expect to be wallflowers.

I’d have to say that it just takes a long while for changes of attitude to go beyond the superficial.

WestRiverrat's avatar

As long as it is the individual’s choice, I don’t think anything should be done.

As to the low US scores.
We need to stop trying to social engineer everything in school and instead just teach the basic tools of education. If we give them the tools of a solid education the kids can and will work the social stuff out by themselves. We did.

We also have to stop teaching to a national standard and start teaching how to think rather than what to think. I know one student we have has been held back twice because he can’t take tests. He knows the material better than most of his teachers, but because he doesn’t do well on the National tests both he and the school are penalized.

Another thing is we have to stop assuming every child needs and wants a college degree. We keep trying to fit everyone into one model, which leads to lower standards for all. There are some careers that are technical in nature that don’t need an advanced degree for success.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I agree, that was the case years ago. And women were some of the worst practicioners of this. sp? My mother did this all the time with my nieces. I said no way, you can do anything and pushed them to try whatever they wanted.

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

I read this question 10 minutes ago, and decided not to respond, as I had nothing to add.

Browsing the internet for interesting articles, I found this one I think may have some relevance. Apparently, looking at a woman in a sexual manner causes her to perform poorly at math, and strangely, to act in ways that diminish her intellectual appeal. According to the study, she will attempt to emphasize her physical traits over her intellectual ones in response to being leered at.

PhiNotPi's avatar

It is almost certainly related to the rate of growth of women in science. Not related to the sheer number, but to the growth.

In Asian and Arabic countries, women are just now being allowed into scientific and engineering jobs. There is a momentum of change, which is why they feel positive.

In the US, even though women are perfectly able to go through science and engineering programs, the women themselves don’t really envision themselves becoming engineers. There isn’t really a momentum of change. Since it is usually the women who choose not to go into science (due to social pressures from both men and other women, not because the universities deny them entrance), they are unlikely to be very positive.

filmfann's avatar

Boys brains are wired to think methodically and logically.
Girls have cooties.

HolographicUniverse's avatar

Well this is an essential example of social engineering and gender roles on the human psychologically, the fact that these tests were empirical speaks volumes for cultural disparity. It’s not that American women are incapable of comprehending these topics but rather they’re aptitude and interest for math and science is socially unacceptable as the tools required for them to excel are viewed as masculine (because for the case of traditional civilization the males were dominant thus establishing their leadership in every developing field.
These cultural messages are traditional, sure they are subsiding in many areas but in others they are being perpetuated. In our culture our women are revered for their beauty rather than intellect, quite caveman in my opinion, therefore many are conditioned to prefer less heavy subjects.
In addition the common belief that women are more emotionally attuned than logical thinkers, which could be true, would cause less interest in scientific pursuits and more interest in social fields

Gabby101's avatar

In some Arab countries (e.g. Jordan), it is more socially acceptable for a woman to be a doctor, dentist or engineer than a business person. Also, the economy in those countries are usually tough and so to earn a decent living, everyone has to choose a hardcore major so they can get a good job.

I respect everyone’s choice to study what interests them, but I see those that have undergrad degrees in math and engineering have a huge advantage in the workplace. People regard people with those degrees as smart and able to learn anything.

Paradox25's avatar

It’s because of social gender constructs, not biology in my opinion. People do have a tendancy to follow what their peers/enviroment signals for them to do. Most women that I know take up teaching, nursing or cosmetology. Most guys that I know usually take up construction, mechanical or science related fields.

Both men and women have hinted to me that they would like do something else for a living (occupations that would obviously cross gender norms), yet make little/no effort to do such a thing. Why: because guys who’ve admitted to me that they would love to have careers that would be considered feminine would have them looked down upon, and a few women who wanted the opportunity to take up more ‘masculine’ jobs were never given the chance to do such a thing. As a result it tends to be the path of least resistance to stick to doing what your peers of the same sex usually do.

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