In a recent study conducted by academic contributors to a website called Econotimes, it was found that in 80% of countries, girls experience negative emotions towards mathematics. The researchers claim females at a young age have anxiety towards STEM subjects and as a result, we see less and less female engineers in the world.
The research has been conducted since 2012 and now the results have been published in a journal titled: Countries with Higher Levels of Gender Equality Show Larger National Sex Differences in Mathematics Anxiety and Relatively Lower Parental Mathematics Valuation for Girls. The researchers put their findings into a graph (shown to the left of this article) that shows anxiety - in red - and where the most anxious students are, geographically.
The UK, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United States and Australia showed moderate levels of mathematics anxiety in girls. These are countries that have some of the greatest universities for engineering in the world. Meaning, if girls are anxious about mathematics at a young age, the chances of them getting into STEM careers later on in life is less likely.
"Most importantly and contra predictions, we showed that economically developed and more gender equal countries have a lower overall level of mathematics anxiety, and yet a larger national sex difference in mathematics anxiety relative to less developed countries," the researchers wrote in their journal.
The study was conducted with 761,655 respondents who were all 15 years old. If curriculums are altered so that less mathematics anxiety happens, perhaps equalizing the gender gap in engineering could actually happen.
Worryingly, female engineers are finding it difficult to join the workforce, especially in Australia. A study conducted by Engineers Australia showed that "half of female graduates in engineering do not enter the workforce." The other 50% that do enter the workforce reportedly leave the industry after 10 years. More shockingly, Engineers Australia says that less than 1% of Australian women past the age of 50 years old are currently working in the industry.
What is being done to bridge gender gaps in engineering?
The Mandarin writes that last year, 30% of engineers in Malaysia were women. Comparatively, the figure used to stand at 6% of engineers.
However, it all begins in the classroom at an early age. Can mathematics anxiety be minimized so that both males and females could look forward to STEM careers after school and university? Let us know what you think in the comments section.