Despite Investment in Girls’ Math and Science Education, Their Interest in STEM Is Waning

The number of teenage girls interested in STEM careers is on the decline, according to a recent survey sponsored by the nonprofit educational organization, Junior Achievement (JA).

The survey, conducted by research group Engine, collected responses from 1,004 boys and girls, according to the Center for Digital Education. It found that 9 percent of girls aged 13 to 17 expressed a desire to work in STEM fields, down from 11 percent of girls in a similar 2018 survey. Meanwhile, boys’ interest in STEM careers increased from last year, up to 27 percent from 24 percent in 2018.

This decrease did not apply to all STEM disciplines. For instance, girls’ enthusiasm for careers in medicine and dentistry went up to 25 percent from 19 percent in 2018, while their interest in disciplines like engineering, robotics, and computer science decreased.

Jan Murfield, the president of JA’s Dallas location, told the Center for Digital Education that overall decline is particularly disheartening in light of widespread efforts to provide girls with more STEM pipeline programs and educational opportunities.

One component that may be lacking among these programs, she believes, is greater exposure to female role models and mentors who have established themselves as leaders in the STEM disciplines.

Research supports this idea. A 2009 study conducted by scholars at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says that many teens who expressed interest in STEM as young children lose interest as they get older because they don’t have the opportunity to be mentored by established STEM professionals.