State of Girls and Women in STEM

This NGCP resource presents the most compelling statistics for girls and women in STEM. Statistics include information on K-12 Education, Higher Education, and Workforce and will be updated on a regular basis.

K-12 Education

Female students' achievement in mathematics and science is on par with their male peers and female students participate in high level mathematics and science courses at similar rates as their male peers, with the exception of computer science and engineering (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2016).

  • In general, female and male students perform equally well in mathematics and science on standardized tests, but larger gaps exist between students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds or family income, with white and Asian/Pacific Islander students and those from higher income families scoring higher than their counterparts who are black, Hispanic, or American Indian/Alaska Native or who are from lower income families.
  • Students enrolled in level-1 science courses in 2012 at comparable rates, regardless of sex and race and ethnicity. However, students with less-educated parents or of lower socioeconomic status (SES) were less likely to take these courses.
  • Female and male students enrolled in advanced science courses at comparable rates, with females slightly more likely than males to do so (22% versus 18%). However, only 15% of black students and 17% of Hispanic students took these courses.
  • Enrollment in high level mathematics courses did not significantly differ by sex, but did vary by race and ethnicity, parent education level, and SES. For example, the proportion of Asian or Pacific Islander students (64%) enrolled is significantly higher than that of black students (30%) and Hispanic students (28%).
  • Female and male students took AP exams in calculus AB, statistics and chemistry at roughly the same rates in 2013. However, males were more likely to take advanced level AP exams, including calculus BC, physics B and physics C.
  • Male students were more likely than female students to take engineering (3% versus 1%) and computer science courses (7% versus 4%) and enrolled in AP computer science A at a much higher rate (81% males; 19% females).    

Higher Education

The rates of science and engineering course taking for girls/women shift at the undergraduate level and gender disparities begin to emerge, especially for minority women (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2016).

  • Women earned 57.3% of bachelor’s degrees in all fields in 2013 and 50.3% of science and engineering bachelor’s degrees. However, women’s participation in science and engineering at the undergraduate level significantly differs by specific field of study. While women receive over half of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the biological sciences, they receive far fewer in the computer sciences (17.9%), engineering (19.3%), physical sciences (39%) and mathematics (43.1%).
  • In 2012, 11.2% of bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering, 8.2% of master’s degrees in science and engineering, and 4.1% of doctorate degrees in science and engineering were awarded to minority women (NSF, Women, Minorities, and People with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, 2015).
  • In 2012, 3.1% of bachelor’s degrees in engineering, 6.5% of bachelor’s degrees in physical sciences, 5.4% of bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and statistics, 4.8% of bachelor’s degrees in computer sciences, 9.7% of bachelor’s degrees in biological sciences, and 14.2% of bachelor’s degrees in social sciences were awarded to minority women (NSF, Women, Minorities, and People with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, 2015).

STEM Workforce

Women remain underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce, although to a lesser degree than in the past, with the greatest disparities occurring in engineering, computer science, and the physical sciences (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2016).

  • Women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, but only 29% of the science and engineering workforce.
  • Female scientists and engineers are concentrated in different occupations than are men, with relatively high shares of women in the social sciences (62%) and biological, agricultural, and environmental life sciences (48%) and relatively low shares in engineering (15%) and computer and mathematical sciences (25%).

For example:

    • 35.2% of chemists are women;
    • 11.1% of physicists and astronomers are women;
    • 33.8% of environmental engineers are women;
    • 22.7% of chemical engineers are women;
    • 17.5% of civil, architectural, and sanitary engineers are women;
    • 17.1% of industrial engineers are women;
    • 10.7% of electrical or computer hardware engineers are women; and
    • 7.9% of mechanical engineers are women.

Race and ethnicity are salient factors in rates of participation in the science and engineering workforce (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2016).

  • The U.S. science and engineering workforce has become more diverse, but several racial and ethnic minority groups continue to be significantly underrepresented.
  • In 2013, 70% of workers in science and engineering occupations were white, which is close to the proportion in the U.S. working age population.
  • Hispanics, blacks, and American Indians/Alaska Natives make up a smaller share of the science and engineering workforce (11%) than their proportion in the general population (27% of U.S. working age population).
  • Asians work in science and engineering occupations at higher rates (17%) than their representation in the U.S. working-age population (5%). Asians are particularly highly concentrated in computer and information science occupations.
  • The increase in female participation in science and engineering over the past two decades includes increasing participation by members of all racial and ethnic groups, especially Hispanic and Asian women.
  • Minority women comprise fewer than 1 in 10 employed scientists and engineers (NSF, Women, Minorities, and People with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, 2015).