June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
K-12 & Pre-College Engineering
14.644.1 - 14.644.11
Gender differences in expressed interests in engineering-related fields over a 30-year span
E. Tiffany Iskander1 Paul A. Gore1 Cynthia Furse2 1 Counseling Psychology Program, College of Education 2 Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, College of Engineering University of Utah
This study examines gender differences and historical trends of high school student interest in engineering based on ACT data on expressed interest compared with that of students’ and ability. Changes have been observed in the interest in engineering fields over time most likely because of societal influences. These influences are especially seen in computer related fields causing speculation that both males and females were influenced by the dot com era but that only male interest was piqued due to the rise of computer games in the late 1990’s. Another interesting observation is the number of students stating they are interested in engineering careers but who minimally or poorly prepared based on their ACT math scores. This raises the question of whether these students understand what engineering is, and whether they have been informed of the demands of the major. These students are likely to face retention issues in engineering fields and are often candidates for math remediation. By better understanding the societal influences as well as gender and ability disparities we will have a better understanding of what needs to be done in order to reverse the current trends of gender disparity and lack of interest in engineering fields.
For almost a century, researchers have observed gender differences in the expressed and measured interests of adolescents and young adults. These differences exist across career and academic interest domains and may partly explain gender disparities in several occupational fields including engineering. In national samples, boys and young men have consistently reported higher interests in engineering relative to their female counterparts. Moreover, recent statistics published by the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology (CPST; http://www.CPST.org1) show declines in the percent of first-year female undergraduate engineering majors from a recorded high of approximately 20% in 1996 to approximately 15% in 2003. Further, womens’ enrollment in engineering graduate programs is lower than all other NSF identified science and engineering-related graduate programs (National Science Foundation, 20052). Not surprisingly, there exists a large gender disparity in engineering employment. According to the U.S. Department of Labor3, less than 15% of all employed engineers are women. This representation plummets in certain engineering specialties (e.g., electrical and mechanical) such that less than 10% are women.
In contrast, women make up almost half of the labor market in life and physical sciences, and over 25% of the labor market in computer and math-related occupations. The fact that engineering continues to lag behind these other technical fields is particularly surprising given the considerable effort and resources allocated to reverse these gender
Iskander, T., & Gore, P., & Furse, C. (2009, June), Gender Differences In Expressed And Measured Interests In Engineering Related Fields Over A 30 Year Span Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5511
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