33 SES 11 A, Ethics, Practice and Gender Bias in Science
Women’s underrepresentation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields of study is well documented in advanced industrial societies. Despite widespread public awareness and decades of research and policy efforts, a large gender gap persists in the affluent West, especially in physics, computer science, and engineering. While the gender segregation of STEM fields is popularly assumed to be a universal phenomenon, rooted in psychological or socially constructed differences between women and men, recent comparative research challenges this assumption by documenting significant variability across time and place. Most recently, this research has revealed surprising cross-national differences, in particular a tendency for STEM fields to be more gender segregated in affluent 'postmaterialist' countries than in poorer more traditional ones (Charles and Bradley 2009; Stoet and Geary 2018). Charles demonstrates that the gender gap in eighth-graders’ STEM aspirations actually widens as societal affluence grows, a pattern that she attributes to the greater penetration of gender stereotypes into the process of curricular and career choices in 'postmaterialist' contexts where students are encouraged to follow their passions and do what they love (2017; see also Inglehart 2018 on the relationship between material security and self-expressive value systems).
In this study we exploit the unique characteristics of the Israeli education system to assess the generalizability of these arguments to account for differences in gender composition within a single national society. Specifically, we compare the gender gap in high school physics and computer science course-taking across Israeli school sectors with similar curricula and matriculation examinations but major structural and cultural differences. Three educational sectors fall under the state education system in Israel: general state schools that serve the secular Jewish majority; Arab state schools that exclusively serve students from the Arab minority; and Jewish state-religious schools that largely adhere to the national curricula but add religious subjects. Jewish and Arab state schools are coeducational while Jewish state-religious education is mostly single-sex.
By comparing course-taking between Jewish and Arab schools we can assess the generalizability of Charles’ arguments about the gendering effects of self-expressive value systems, but in the context of a single country with a single national educational curriculum. Are gender gaps in STEM more pronounced in schools serving the more affluent and individualistic Israeli Jewish population than in schools serving the less affluent and more collectivistic Israeli Arab population?
Our data also make possible another highly relevant comparison between Jewish coeducational schools and Jewish single-sex schools. This allows us to assess the argument that single-sex education reduces the salience of gender stereotypes and potentially increases girls’ participation in male-dominated fields (Mael et al. 2014).
Analyses are based on administrative data from the Israeli Ministry of Education that encompass all students who completed high school in Israel between 2015 and 2017. For all students we have information on parental education, school socioeconomic index and educational sector (Jewish secular, Jewish religious, Arab). For about 30% of the population we also have a mathematics score from a standardized test administered at the 8th grade; for this sub-sample we can also control for previous mathematics achievement. Our analysis confirmed that the sub-sample is unbiased compared to the entire population. The analysis consists of two stages. First, using the entire population, we describe patterns of enrollment in advanced physics and computer science by gender and school sector. Second, we estimate mixed model logistic regressions for enrollment in either advanced physics or advanced computer science. These models control for possible compositional effects by adjusting for parental education, school SES, and previous achievement in math.
Descriptive and multivariate analyses show the following: (1) In the Jewish society boys are highly overrepresented (about 70%) in advanced physics and computer science. Despite the fact that Jewish religious schools are single-sex while Jewish secular schools are coeducational, there are only minor differences between the two sectors with regard to patterns of gender segregation. (2) In the Arab sector, we find a small but statistically significant advantage for girls in enrollment in these two subjects (both physics and computer science are about 55% girls). Our findings support the argument that STEM pathways will be more gendered in sociocultural contexts characterized by affluence and self-expressive value systems where students are encouraged to follow their passions, or whatever they perceive to be their passions. At the same time, we find no evidence that girls are more likely to pursue stereotypically male-typed subjects when they are enrolled in girls-only schools. This second finding is in line with a previous Israeli study (Feniger 2011) and with other recent international studies (e.g. Jackson 2012; Park et al. 2018). While calls to expand single-sex education as a mean for enhancing girls' participation in STEM gain popularity, they are not based on solid evidence. If educational policy makers in Western societies wish to promote greater gender integration of physics and computer science, it will be helpful to interrogate how schools, teachers and students engage with the concepts of 'free choice' and 'self-expression' and how these concepts shape curricular aspirations and outcomes. We also believe that educational researchers need to explore how the understanding of 'free choice' and 'self-expression' shapes schools’ policies and practices which in turn also lead to different gender patterns in STEM.
Charles, M. (2017). Venus, Mars, and math: Gender, societal affluence, and eighth graders’ aspirations for STEM. Socius, 3, 1-16. Charles, M., & Bradley, K. (2009). Indulging our gendered selves? Sex segregation by field of study in 44 countries. American Journal of Sociology, 114(4), 924-976. Feniger, Y. (2011). The gender gap in advanced math and science course taking: does same-sex education make a difference? Sex Roles, 65, 670-679. Inglehart, R. F. (2018). Cultural evolution: People’s motivations are changing, and reshaping the world. New York: Cambridge University Press. Jackson, C. K. (2012). Single-sex schools, student achievement, and course selection: Evidence from rule-based student assignments in Trinidad and Tobago. Journal of Public Economics, 96(1-2), 173–187. Mael, F., Smith, M., Alonso, A., Rogers, K., & Gibson, D. (2004). Theoretical arguments for and against single-sex schools: A critical analysis of the explanations. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research. Park, H., Behrmanb, J.R, & Choi, J. (2018). Do single-sex schools enhance students’ STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) outcomes? Economics of Education Review, 62, 35–47. Stoet, G. & Geary, D.C. (2018). The gender-equality paradox in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. Psychological Science, 29, 581-93.
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