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It’s Good News on Girls and Science

A recent meta-analysis of almost 80 studies finds that girls are making dramatic strides in imagining themselves as scientists—but there’s still work to do.

August 2, 2019

A 1970s-era study found that, when asked to draw a scientist, boys and girls drew males an astonishing 99.4 percent of the time. Looking at roughly 5,000 drawings collected between 1966 and 1977, researchers determined that “only 28 were of female scientists,” as Edutopia reported in “50 Years of Children Drawing Scientists.”

But in the ensuing decades, according to a meta-analysis published in 2018, that trend witnessed a dramatic reversal, driven by broad changes in our cultural expectations around gender and in the way we educate girls. Today, more than half of girls draw a woman when asked to draw a scientist. Other data provided by the National Science Foundation confirms that these changes in perspective are driving real-world results: In 2015, women made up 48 percent of biological, agricultural, and environmental life scientists, up from 34 percent in 1993. Women in all science and engineering occupations increased more modestly, from 22.9 percent in 1993 to 28.4 percent in 2015.

That’s all great news. But other findings from the meta-analysis suggest that as girls age, and particularly as they reach their teenage years, they experience a sudden, unexplained loss of confidence in their abilities in math and science. Our video suggests some research-backed strategies that should keep young girls moving forward and claiming their rightful place in STEM fields.

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