SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) — Why do more men than women work in technology, math, science and engineering professions?
According to a new study by University of California San Diego researchers, knowledge and skills developed in early childhood may have a significant impact on a person’s trajectory through school and careers.
UCSD’s research team wrote, “Fewer women than men study and work in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Now, it appears that women may self-select out of these fields partly as a result of receiving more early-childhood reinforcement in language arts.”
When most people make higher education and career choices, they tend to lean into what they good at.
“We find girls are better in English than boys in grades three through seven,” said Anya Samek, an associate professor of economics and one of the study’s co-authors. “Because girls are more likely to do well in language fields early in life, they may find themselves more inclined to choose them for majors and careers. Thus, women may be underrepresented in STEM in part because of their cultivated talents achieved earlier in life.”
The findings are based on a longitudinal study in which the researchers examined time parents spent with their children from ages three to five, alongside the children’s test scores when they were ages eight to 14.
Researchers also found that time parents spent teaching children from ages three to five (up to three hours or more a week) correlated with better test scores when the children are ages eight to 14.
However, there’s 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, according to researchers. For example, compared to boys, girls had a stronger ability to sit still and focus.
The study’s participants included 2,185 children and 953 parents who responded to surveys.
Samek said, “We show that early-life investments by parents are strongly associated with later-life language skills.”
Girls did substantially better in language-related studies than boys, while scores for girls and boys in mathematics were more similar.
Researchers found a stronger correlation between parental investment with language scores than they did with math.
“I think it’s surprising to see that parental investments are correlated with the test scores in English but not in math,” said Samek. “It could be because we’re told to read to our kids at least 10 minutes a day. We’re told to introduce them to books and I think we probably spend less time thinking about how to engage children in math.”
“It could be that parents just do not spend as much time teaching children math as they do reading. If that is the case, the next step may be to encourage parents to teach their young children math alongside reading,” Samek said.
The paper, Parental Investments in Early Childhood and the Gender Gap in Math and Literacy, was co-authored by Amanda Chuan, John A. List and Shreemayi Samujjwala.