In this chapter we investigate how boys’ and girls’ ability and attitudes toward science differ as they approach the end of compulsory schooling. We begin by comparing their performance on an internationally standardized test, before investigating the proportion of boys and girls aspiring to a scientific career. Results are compared across a set of 29 developed countries. Gender differences in science achievement tests completed at age 15 are small, yet boys and girls wish to enter very different careers. In all 29 countries boys are more likely than girls to expect entry into careers involving physical science or mathematics, while girls prefer a career in life sciences and the health professions.
Over the past 15 to 20 years, educational attainment has risen dramatically across all developed countries. Whereas in 1995 only one in five children living in OECD countries completed university, this figure has almost doubled to one in three today (OECD, 2008, table A3.2). One particularly noticeable feature in almost every country in the developed world is the rising trend of women now outnumbering men in accessing tertiary education (OECD, 2008). However, men and women are not evenly distributed among the different disciplines. Compared to boys, girls are less likely to study a subject relating to the natural sciences (especially physics), technology, engineering, or math (STEM) (OECD, 2008, table A3.5). This is despite the STEM disciplines offering the greatest economic rewards. For example, Black, Sanders, and Taylor (2003) show that in the United States social science, art, education, and humanities graduates earn roughly 30% less than economists, mathematicians, scientists, and engineers. A similar picture is evident in Europe, where STEM graduates tend to have higher earnings than non-STEM graduates (DIUS, 2009).