Young Australians value STEM, but gender inequality persists

By on 13 March, 2019

A survey of over 2,000 Australians aged between 12 and 25 has found that most view these skills as important and valuable, but key disparities between genders remain.

A survey of 2,092 students in Devember 2018 and January 2019 has found that most have positive attitudes towards STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines.

Eighty percent of survey participants agreed that ‘scientists make a positive impact on the world’, and a strong perception among respondents that possessing knowledge and skills in these subjects is important for future employment opportunities.

Responding to the survey on International Womens’ Day, Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews said the results were encouraging overall, but showed more work was needed to encourage girls and young women to study STEM disciplines.

“As an engineer myself, it’s very encouraging the study found our youth think scientists make a positive difference to the world, and young women want to use STEM to make a difference,” she said.

“Females – more than males – are driven to study STEM subjects by an ambition to change the world, but interest and confidence in these subjects is strongly divided along gender lines.”

An infographic summarising key results of the study. Image: YouthInsight.

The division runs deep. For years nine and ten, 70 percent of boys chose to study at least one STEM elective, whereas only 32 percent of girls made the same choice.

These results change through the senior high school years, but the skew remains strong for higher education, with 58 percent of males considering at least one STEM course versus 26 percent of females, with significantly higher interest levels in STEM subjects among males across the board.

Other results in the survey reveal potential for strategy to overcome this imbalance, however. Parental engagement on these topics was found to be low, with only around half of respondents saying that  their parents think it’s important to learn about science and technology, suggesting that campaigns targeting parents could develop an important avenue of encouragement and interest in STEM careers.

Just under half of participants had attended science activities outside of school or study in the preceding year, but 45 percent of these said that their interest in studying STEM topics in future had increased as a direct result of attending an event.

The full results of the survey are accessible online.

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