Science savvy female teens in Asia, east and south Europe and the Middle East represent their gender well. These ladies, on average, outperform their male counterparts on science tests for comprehension. In the United States, however, women still lag behind men in science achievement. Only Colombia and Liechtenstein exhibit a higher gap between the genders than the U.S., where boys performed 2.7 percent higher than girls, the New York Times shows (with an interactive plot).
Sixty-five developed countries took part in the test, which was given to 15-year-old students. In the majority of countries, girls dominated. The U.S., plus a handful of countries mostly in west north Europe and the Americas, showed the opposite trend.
The Times writes that the tests point to cultural differences in the incentives offered for learning math and science. Andreas Schleicher, the project leader behind the test, from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, said that boys in the U.S. are more likely to see science as something relevant to their lives than girls.
Christianne Corbett, a senior researcher at the American Association of University Women, agreed, saying, “we see that very early in childhood—around age 4—gender roles in occupations appear to be formed. Women are less likely to go into science careers, although they are clearly capable of succeeding.”
In contrast, Schleicher said, “for girls in some Arab countries”—such as Jordan, where girls outscored boys by an impressive 8 percent—“education is the only way to move up the social structure. It is one way to earn social mobility.”
Like soccer is for young men in some African and Latino countries, science may be the new ticket to financial and societal freedom for women around the world. Women in the U.S., Canada, Britain and other European nations might not have the same incentive to break free of cultural discouragement, but if they could overcome that barrier, the scientific playing field would only become a more diverse and fruitful arena.
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