Why are Female Students Not Taking STEM in University? Results from a Student Survey in Hong Kong

Adam Cheung, Anita Kit Wa Chan

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paperpeer-review


Women’s access to education has significantly improved in recent decades; however, the gender skew in STEM subjects – the underrepresentation of female students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics – persists. The phenomenon is even more noticeable in the advanced economies. In this study, we examine factors at individual, peer, and family levels in contributing to students’ choices of STEM electives in the secondary school curriculum, and their intentions to choose STEM as their preferred choice of university majors and career orientations. Data of this study come from a representative survey of Secondary 5 (11th Grade) students in Hong Kong (Ni=2, 807 students; Nj=43 schools). Our data show that female students are not only less likely to take STEM-related electives in the DSE curriculum (the mainstream curriculum leading to university entrance), but also more likely than male students to leak out from the STEM pipeline in the later stages. That is, even female students have taken STEM-related electives in the secondary schools, they are less likely to pursue STEM majors in higher education or a career in the STEM fields. Regression results show that gender differences in the subject self-concepts, preference on job characteristics, and stereotypical beliefs towards STEM are the key factors to women’s low intention to choose STEM fields in education. Gender stereotypes towards STEM also hinder female students from continuing their pursuit of science in university. Despite similar academic performance, female students tend to hold a lower level of self-concept on science-related subjects than male students. Meanwhile, school-related factors exert an indirect effect on the subject choice mostly through affecting students’ subject self-concept and stereotypical belief towards STEM. Our findings suggest that more measures have to be taken to change female students’ perceptions about science and improve teaching so that female students’ confidence can be boosted.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2020
EventInternational Conference on Gender, Language and Education, ICGLE 2020 - Online
Duration: 2 Dec 20204 Dec 2020


ConferenceInternational Conference on Gender, Language and Education, ICGLE 2020
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