Gender Gap in Physics

The largest gender disparity in both achievement and professional representation is in physics.
Results indicate that more females participate in Advanced Placement science and mathematics courses yet are not performing as well. Males score higher on SAT math and science Achievement tests with the differences ranging from 33 points in biology to 59 points in physics. Neither studies on biological-based differences nor studies on learning and socialization issues have produced unequivocal evidence to support the disparities in achievement but that does not stop various people from voicing their opinions. At a 2005 economic conference Harvard University President Lawrence Summers stated that decreased female performance in mathematics and science had to do with “innate ability” in the academic fields. There have been conflicting studies showing that interactive engagement techniques can eliminate and have no effect on the gender achievement gap in college introductory physics courses. A Harvard study on interactive engagement techniques in calculus based introductory physics classes for non majors found that the gender achievement gap completely disappeared with the integration of interactive engagement classes. A similar study was done at the University of Colorado but found that interactive engagement techniques did not eliminate the gender achievement gap and stated that the gap exists due to differences in previous physics and math knowledge and incoming attitudes and beliefs.
Women face several barriers when going into physics including expectations to society, image of physicists (nerdy and geeky), few visible female role models, ideas of parents, teachers, and neighbors, family responsibilities including children, and covert or overt discrimination or harassment. Additionally physics has an image problem of not being associated with having an impact on people’s lives. As of 2006 women make up 47% of high school students taking physics, 21% undergraduate degrees in physics, 17% PhD recipients, and 6% of full professors.

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