The findings

Countries with a better ranking in the Global Gender Gap Index have a smaller proportion of women taking degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), as Stoet and Geary showed in their study titled The Gender-Equality Paradox in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education.

Countries such as Albania and Algeria have a greater percentage of women choosing STEM than countries lauded for their high levels of gender emancipation, such as Finland, Norway, or Sweden.

The researchers also looked at how many girls might be expected to choose further study in STEM based on these criteria. They took the number of girls in each country who had the necessary ability in STEM and for whom it was also their best subject and compared this to the number of women graduating in STEM. They found there was a disparity in all countries, but with the gap once again larger in the more "emancipated" countries. In the UK, 29% of STEM graduates are female, whereas 48% of UK girls might be expected to take those subjects based on science ability alone. This drops to 39% when both science ability and interest in the subject are taken into account.

Note that the Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI) measures gender equality differently than the Basic Index of Gender Inequality (BIGI). The GGGI focuses strongly on women participating in high-level politics and on income independence, while the BIGI focuses on well being.

How policymakers can use this information

The main conclusion is that focusing on "traditional" feminist themes, such as more women in politics and women’s income are irrelevant in regard to getting more girls interested in science and technology.

Fourty years ago, many people will have thought that when women do participate more in politics and have their own income stream, they will behave and choose more like men do. That did not happen.

If the desire is to get more girls interested in important technical subjects such as computer programming, new ideas are needed.

Schools need to help students in secondary education better to make subject choices. Currently, there are girls how have a potential STEM profile, yet do not go for STEM. We argue that schools should target these girls, because focusing on them (rather than focusing on girls more generally) will most likely make a real difference.


The study, published in Psychological Science, also looked at what might motivate girls and boys to choose to study STEM subjects, including overall ability, interest or enjoyment in the subject and whether science subjects were a personal academic strength. Using data on 475,000 adolescents across 67 countries or regions, the researchers found that while boys’ and girls’ achievement in STEM subjects was broadly similar, science was more likely to be boys’ best subject. Girls, even when their ability in science equalled or excelled that of boys, were often likely to be better overall in reading comprehension, which relates to higher ability in non-STEM subjects. Girls also tended to register a lower interest in science subjects. These differences were near-universal across all the countries and regions studied.

Discussions of this study in the press

This paper was widely discussed in the media, including on BBC NewsNight. Below is a small selection of links.