We know that women in much of the developed countries are less represented in STEM studies. However, such a statement hides the fact that women are approx. half of the students in biology, chemistry and maths (check e.g. here ) but barely 20% in engineering. It is often stated that women tend to choose careers where they feel more useful towards society but that is difficult to reconcile with the fact that the share of women in Chemistry is 50% but only 35% in Chemical Engineering, here. I have tried to find sources that would address this difference but in general the topic treated is STEM as a whole.

Are there studies focusing particularly in this difference in gender representation, engineering vs sciences?

  • There is raw data for the UK at HESA and they may have some analysis.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 19:16
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    Regarding math: the chart you link shows women get ~40% of bachelors degrees. But I suspect that includes math. ed. and that women are disproportionately represented there. Certainly the disparity is much more severe for math graduate degrees. Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 19:33
  • There is also this article
    – StrongBad
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 19:37
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    It is often stated that women tend to choose careers where they feel more useful towards society Not quite. Stereotypically female fields tend to be more "people-oriented," but it's not clear which way the causality goes. I've also heard that in Italy, pure mathematics is considered "feminine" because applied mathematics is viewed more like engineering, which seems to universally have more macho cachet. Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 22:28
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    @DougSpoonwood Yes, thank you for the stats. And as you can see in the question statement, roughly half of the chemistry and maths students. But then, why so few in engineering/technology?
    – Toulousain
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 19:00

3 Answers 3


There is a large body of research dedicated to underrepresentation of women in STEM.

Let me direct you to this wonderful synthesis on the topic by Wang. His work is pretty comprehensive on the subject:

Wang, M. T., & Degol, J. L. (2017). Gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM): Current knowledge, implications for practice, policy, and future directions. Educational Psychology Review, 29, 119-140.

He has also written a widely cited work here:

Wang, M. T., Eccles, J. S., & Kenny, S. (2013). Not lack of ability but more choice: individual and gender differences in STEM career choice. Psychological Science, 24, 770–775. doi: 10.1177/0956797612458937.

Rong Su produced a great meta-analysis on this topic as a graduate student:

Su, R., Rounds, J., & Armstrong, P. I. (2009). Men and things, women and people: a meta-analysis of sex differences in interests. Psychological bulletin, 135(6), 859.

If you are looking for more of a cognitive reason, you might be interested in looking at the work by Camilla Benbow, David Lubinski (both out of Vanderbilt), or Jon Wai out of Arkansas.

For example, a nice little cognitive work on gender differences recently came out in Intelligence while Jon Wai was working at Duke-

Wai, J., Hodges, J., & Makel, M. C. (2018). Sex differences in ability tilt in the right tail of cognitive abiltiies: A 35-year examination. Intelligence, 67, 76-83.


I suspect that this is yet another example of the fractal nature of the gender binary. STEM may be coded masculine in general, but within STEM different fields are coded "more masculine" than others.

I'm very familiar with this in my own field: IT in general is masculine, but UI/frontend is more feminine than backend, on the backend system stuff is more masculine than application stuff, writing it in C is more masculine than writing it in ruby, ... This is sometimes even explicitly expressed as "your beard has to be this long to write/understand this code"

I've never found a good explanation for most of these associations, they seem fairly random to me (and apparently change between cultures as well).

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    They also change over time. It used to be that teaching was masculine and programming was feminine. Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 16:39
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    What? Medicine in general is barely coded masculine these days. Surgery maybe still has some stronger associations, but general practice definitely not.
    – nengel
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 4:20
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    @JohnSlegers Or maybe economic stressors often mask gender discrimination, but then the gender discrimination reappears when the economic stressors dissipate. The Atlantic was going for clicks here and you fell for it. Commented Jul 30, 2018 at 19:54
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    @JohnSlegers, I have to agree with you on: "Basically, the more freedom women have, the more likely they choose typically 'female' education and career paths!" In a co-ed school, I was the only one girl who studied mechanical drawing in a classroom full of boys and also one of five girls studying honour maths. Other girls studied less. They regarded studying "uncool" and "nerdy." They didn't join us for advanced class because of their herd mentality that held them back. Women and girls can do NOTHING with that herd mentality which restricts their ambitions & goals and also their thinking span.
    – user92331
    Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 21:47
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    @JohnSlegers, roughly 80% women are people-oriented, while men of that percentage are thing-oriented. Men love doing things with their hands and using their brains. They love problems to solve, which they see as challenges.
    – user92331
    Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 21:51

"We know that women in much of the developed countries are less represented in STEM studies."

I don't know why academics of all people say this, when there doesn't seem to exist any consensus as to what "STEM" even means. Does psychology count as a science? Does sociology? Does nursing count as a technological field? And the list of such areas goes on and on.

As to why "why are women even less represented in engineering than in other STEM fields?"

There could be any number of reasons to this, and any analysis should probably get treated as rather partial.

That said though, something may get revealed by looking at engineering jobs themselves and what men and women believe about them. How much travel do engineering jobs involve? How many hours of work do those jobs demand? What sorts of on the job risks exists, such as an engineer who works in a mine? How do the sexes compare when talking about willingness to work long hours? How do they compare when talking about willingness to travel extensively for jobs? How do they compare when considering working in jobs where serious injury may be a significant risk?

  • most engineers work in cubicles all day. I think the question is clearly not about train engineers, miners, oil riggers, etc Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 21:31

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