K-12 Education

Female students' achievement in mathematics and science is on par with their male peers and female students participate in high level mathematics and science courses at similar rates as their male peers, with the exception of computer science and engineering (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2018).

  • In general, female and male students perform equally well in mathematics and science on standardized tests, but larger gaps exist between students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds or family income, with white and Asian/Pacific Islander students and those from higher income families scoring higher than their counterparts who are black, Hispanic, or American Indian/Alaska Native or who are from lower income families.
  • A few small differences in average mathematics scores by sex were observed in 2015 within racial or ethnic groups. In grade 4, the average score for white male students was 2 points higher than the score for white female students. Among black students in grade 4, the pattern was reversed, with the average score for black female students 2 points higher than the score for black male students. The largest difference in average scores for male and female students was among Hispanic students in grade 12. The average score for male students was 5 points higher than that for female students.
  • All ninth graders who began high school in 2009 and completed in 2013 took at least one science course, with 79% taking at least one general science course (but no advanced science) and 21% taking at least one advanced course. However, students with less educated parents or of lower socioeconomic status (SES) were less likely to take at least one advanced course. Science coursetaking showed slight differences among male and female students. In advanced coursetaking, female students were slightly more likely than male students to take advanced biology (13% versus 10%) and slightly less likely to take advanced physics (4% versus 7%).  Some sex differences in science coursetaking were observed when race or ethnicity was taken into account, for example, black female students were more likely to take at least one advanced science course than their male counterparts (18% versus 9%)
  • Enrollment in high level mathematics courses did not significantly differ by sex, but did vary by race and ethnicity, parent education level, and SES. For example. Asian students took advanced mathematics courses at a significantly higher rate than any other racial or ethnic group, with 50% taking calculus or higher, compared with 22% for white students, 15% for Hispanic students, and 9% for black students. Female and male students took AP exams in calculus AB, statistics and chemistry at roughly the same rates in 2013. However, males were more likely to take advanced level AP exams, including calculus BC, physics B and physics C.
  • Male students were more likely than female students to take engineering (21% versus 8%) and enroll in AP computer science A (77% vs 23%) however there were no significant differences in the percentage of male and female students take other computer science classes.

Higher Education

The rates of science and engineering course taking for girls/women shift at the undergraduate level and gender disparities begin to emerge, especially for minority women (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2018).

  • Since the late 1990s, women have earned about 57% of all bachelor’s degrees and half of all S&E bachelor’s degrees However, women’s participation in science and engineering at the undergraduate level significantly differs by specific field of study. In 2015, women received over half of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the biological sciences, they received far fewer in the computer sciences (18%), engineering (20%), physical sciences (39%) and mathematics (43%).
  • In 2016, 12.6% of bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering, 7.8% of master’s degrees in science and engineering, and 5.0% of doctorate degrees in science and engineering were awarded to minority women (NSF, Women, Minorities, and People with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, 2015).
  • In 2016, women from underrepresented minority groups earned more than half of the science and engineering (S&E) degrees awarded to their respective racial and ethnic groups at all degree levels—bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate. Underrepresented minority women have increasing and strong shares of bachelor’s degrees in psychology, social sciences, and biological sciences. Representation in these fields by underrepresented minority women is increasing and is near or above their representation in the labor force. (NSF, Women, Minorities, and People with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, 2019).

STEM Workforce

Women remain underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce, although to a lesser degree than in the past, with the greatest disparities occurring in engineering, computer science, and the physical sciences (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2018).

  • Women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, but only 28% of the science and engineering workforce.
  • Female scientists and engineers are concentrated in different occupations than are men, with relatively high shares of women in the social sciences (60%) and biological, agricultural, and environmentallife sciences (48%) and relatively low shares in engineering (15%) and computer and mathematical sciences (26%).

Race and ethnicity are salient factors in rates of participation in the science and engineering workforce (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2018).

  • The U.S. science and engineering workforce has become more diverse, but several racial and ethnic minority groups continue to be significantly underrepresented.
  • In 2015, 67% of workers in science and engineering occupations were white, which is close to the proportion in the U.S. working age population.
  • Hispanics, blacks, and American Indians/Alaska Natives make up a smaller share of the science and engineering workforce (11%) than their proportion in the general population (27% of U.S. working age population).
  • Asians work in science and engineering occupations at higher rates (20.6%) than their representation in the U.S. working-age population (5.5%). Asians are particularly highly concentrated in computer and information science occupations.
  • The increase in female participation in science and engineering over the past two decades includes increasing participation by members of all racial and ethnic groups, especially Hispanic and Asian women.