Stereotype that boys are more interested in STEM than girls starts at 6 years old, study finds

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- In the world of STEM, a new study found that children as young as 6 years old think girls are less interested than boys in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The study from the University of Houston and the University of Washington highlights the importance of stereotypes, which researchers say influence girls' interest in these fields.

"Gender-interest stereotypes that say 'STEM is for boys' begin in grade school, and by the time they reach high school, many girls have made their decision not to pursue degrees in computer science and engineering because they feel they don't belong," Allison Master, an assistant professor at UH and the report study lead author, told ABC News.

Researchers surveyed 2,500 students in first through 12th grade from diverse racial and social-economic backgrounds. According to a post by UH, the results of those studies were combined with laboratory experiments to provide insight into how stereotypes impact children's motivation.

The university shared that more kids believed girls had less interest than boys in STEM fields. Specifically, 63% of the students believed girls were less interested in engineering than boys were, while 9% believed girls were more interested in the subject, according to the university's research.

These patterns also play out in the job market. While women make up nearly half of the workforce, they account for only 25% of computer scientists and 15% of engineers.

Researchers say parents can help close the gender gap by introducing girls to engineering and computer science early.

"What I hope is that parents and teachers won't limit the opportunities that we give to children. And then, we can start sending girls the message that girls enjoy computer science and engineering," Master said.
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