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Shifts in Computer Science Interest

By Inside Higher Ed

April 22, 2015

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A new study presented at the American Educational Research Association's 2015 annual meeting this week found although interest in computer science among both men and women has fluctuated over the last four decades, women have consistently been underrepresented.

The study is based on the responses of first-year, full-time students at four-year institutions drawn from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program's Freshman Survey run by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. The survey asks students about their intended majors, so the study does not reflect what degrees students actually pursued.

The study found interest in computer science among both men and women spiked in the early 1980s and the late 1990s, but the share of women expressing interest in computer science has been in decline since the early 1980s.

Although math confidence is still the predominant explanation for the gender gap, it has fallen drastically since the 1970s, accounting for only 13 percent of the gap today.

The study also found women who consider themselves creative and artistic are less likely to be deterred from computer science than in the past, although interest in social activism and family aspirations are both increasingly tied to lower interest in computer science among both men and women.

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