What is it about?

Gender stereotypes about interest in STEM are widespread, endorsed more strongly than ability stereotypes by youths, and strongly negatively linked to girls’ motivation and sense of belonging in computer science and engineering. We asked 2,277 students in Grades 1-12 how interested they thought girls and boys were in computer science and engineering. Most believed boys were more interested than girls in these fields. These stereotypes were endorsed by students from diverse backgrounds and as early as age 6. Interest stereotypes were linked to worse motivation for girls. The more that an average girl in our study believed in these stereotypes favoring boys, the less interested she was in computer science and engineering.In lab experiments, we found that interest stereotypes can cause girls’ lower interest in computer science activities. Gender gaps only appeared when the activity was stereotyped against girls. Why are interest stereotypes so powerful? Interest stereotypes may make girls assume: if boys like these fields more than girls, then I won’t like this field either. They also send a clear signal about who belongs there.

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Why is it important?

Computer science and engineering have among the largest gender disparities in STEM fields, much larger than mathematics, biology, and chemistry. It’s time to pay attention to the messages that we send to kids about who likes to do computer science and engineering. It’s not enough for girls to realize that they CAN do computer science and engineering—let’s spread the word that many girls WANT to do them as well.

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This page is a summary of: Gender stereotypes about interests start early and cause gender disparities in computer science and engineering, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, November 2021, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2100030118.
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