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Girls' Early Edge in Language Arts May Explain STEM Gender Gap

By University of California San Diego

April 20, 2022

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Women may self-select out of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields partly as a result of receiving more early-childhood reinforcement in language arts, where girls have a comparative advantage over boys, according to a new paper accepted for publication in the journal American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings.

"Women may be underrepresented in STEM in part because of their cultivated talents achieved earlier in life," says co-author Anya Samek, associate professor of economics at the University of California San Diego's Rady School of Management. "Girls are more likely to do well in language fields early in life, [thus] they may find themselves more inclined to choose them for majors and careers."

The researchers describe a gender gap in parental investment in the children from ages three to five. On average, parents spent more time with girls. Several factors could contribute to this disparity. The researchers found girls had a stronger ability to sit still and focus, for example.

"It's surprising to see that parental investments are correlated with the test scores in English but not in math," Samek says. It could be because parents are told to read to their children every day. "I think we probably spend less time thinking about how to engage children in math," she says.

From University of California San Diego
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