In Europe, male STEM graduates outnumber female graduates 2 to 1
A scientist works aboard the scientific expedition yacht "Tara" in the waters off Groix Island, off Lorient, western France. Source: AFP/Sebastien Salom Gomis

Gender parity in STEM education is faring badly in the European Union.

New data from European Union’s statistics agency, Eurostat, reveals that there are twice as many male graduates in science, mathematics, computing, engineering, manufacturing and construction, as there are female graduates.

This is despite women dominating all levels of tertiary education in the bloc – except at the doctoral studies level – and graduating at a higher rate (57.6 percent) compared to men.

The gap persists, even widens, at some of the continent’s most developed higher education systems. For example, Germany and the Netherlands’ records show men in these disciplines graduating at over twice the rate as women.

These are “worrying” figures as these are the subjects most likely to have an increasing impact on society, such as computer science, according to Thomas Jørgensen, senior policy coordinator at the European University Association.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Jørgensen said: “You consistently have more women than men going into higher education, but in certain very key disciplines that is just not the case.”

“If you look at the whole digital transformation that is going on across society, this is an issue. When you think about people who develop anything related to artificial intelligence, they tend to be men.”

Women representation in areas like artificial intelligence is increasingly important as society moves into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Source: AFP/Bertrand Guay

Eurostat’s data is the latest reminder that STEM education remains an area of distressing disparity worldwide.

In the US, few women are earning degrees in STEM, except in the life sciences, with markedly low representation in fields like computer and information sciences and support services.

Recently, Tokyo Medical University in Japan, arguably Asia’s most advanced economy, was reported to have systematically rigged its entrance exams to exclude many women. The scheme was apparently to protect from future doctor shortages, as female medics were stereotyped to quit or cut their working hours once they start their own families.

Things aren’t any better in Europe.

In Eurostat’s report, we see Europe’s female underrepresentation in STEM laid bare, and progress, if any, has been slow and found in eastern European nations instead.

The data shows that in engineering, manufacturing and construction-related fields, male graduates accounted for close to three quarters (72.3 percent) of the total number of graduates in those fields. The figure is slightly lower, but still significant – 57.5 percent – in subjects like natural sciences, mathematics, statistics, and information and communication technologies.

For the latter fields of study, the gap is most obvious in Austria, where there are 2.7 times more male graduates than female graduates. Other relatively large differences are also recorded in countries like Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands, Malta, Luxembourg, Ireland and Germany.

Smaller fields – such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries and veterinary fields, and services – are where the number of male and female graduates are almost equal.

Women in developed economies face other types of barriers, such are in accessing senior positions in digital companies. Source: AFP/Sebastien Salom Gomis

According to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in October, these gender gaps do not start at university.

Instead, the “Bridging the Digital Gender Divide” report said the stubborn gap between men and women in STEM is evident from an early age, and continues through university to the workplace.

Growing up, societal and parental biases often fuel young girls’ lack of confidence in their maths, science and IT abilities, the report found, as well as their expectations of future careers in those fields.

“This ultimately leads to girls’ self-censorship and lower engagement in science and ICTs,” it said.

In the labour market, women face further hurdles like shouldering the burden of childcare and domestic work. Women were found to do 2.6 times the amount of such work, which leaves them less time to grow their careers.

Liked this? Then you’ll love…

China is set to beat the US for top STEM research. Here’s why.

Why music matters to STEM students. Yes, STEM.