/ Modified jul 18, 2016 8:10 a.m.

Study: College Calculus Deters Women from STEM Fields

Explanation for gender gap in science and technology jobs emerges in nationwide study.

By Melissa Sevigny, Arizona Science Desk

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A new study suggests one reason for the gender gap in science and technology, or STEM, fields is women’s lack of confidence in their math skills.

The study used a national survey of 5,000 college students who enrolled in first-semester calculus. Among those intending to pursue STEM careers, 35 percent of women said they did not understand calculus well enough to continue to the next semester, compared with 14 percent of men.

Lead author Jessica Ellis of Colorado State University said this study and others show lack of confidence drives women from STEM fields, not lack of ability.

The results highlight a problem for the workforce, said Flagstaff’s STEM City Coordinator Mindy Bell.

“So we end up with a lot of women going into life sciences but maybe not going into physics or astronomy or engineering, where they need to take that more advanced math,” she said.

Bell said there’s a need for K-12 programs that encourage girls not to give up on math. Currently women make up only a quarter of the STEM workforce.

The study appeared in the journal PLOS One.

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