American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Women in Math and Science

The National Center for Education Statistics recently released a report entitled "Women in Mathematics and Science." The report found that women have made "tremendous progress" in education over the last few decades, but discrepancies in education between men and women still exist. Boys and girls have similar levels of interest and proficiency in math and science until age 13, when boys begin to perform better in science. As students progress through high school, the gap widens to include math; men score better on the SAT math and science achievement tests as well as AP Exams. The difference between the sexes has shrunk over time but still exists. The math and science courses taken by men and women are similar, except men are more likely to take physics and women are more likely to take chemistry. Women who do not take math or science their senior year of high school are more likely than men to have been advised that they did not need the material or stated that they disliked the subject.

Among freshmen in college, men are more likely to choose a career in science or engineering, and women lean toward professional fields, education, and social sciences. A 1996 study by the Higher Education Research Institute found that 20% of men planned to major in computer science or engineering, compared with only 4% of women. Men are still more likely to earn a masters degree in science, but the gap is shrinking. Finally, inequities still exist in the employment sector. The study reports that "the salary differential between women and men in comparable scientific jobs is still evident." On a positive note, there was not a measurable difference between the starting salaries of men and women who majored in computer science or engineering.

The report is available on the Department of Education website or from the National Library of Education at (800) 424-1616 or

Some of the data used for this study was taken from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) which is, according to the US Department of Education, "the largest, most comprehensive, and most rigorous international comparison of education ever undertaken." For more details on the results of TIMSS, visit the TIMSS website, which includes the fourth and eighth grade study reports along with information about various resources that can be used to interpret and compare TIMSS results. You can also read about the eighth-grade study in the July 1997 issue of Geotimes and the AGI Government Affairs website.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at

Contributed by Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs
Last updated December 17, 1997

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