By Expect Everything UK contributor
Finlay Yates
Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital School in Bristol

It’s been shown that more girls go for caring professions, whereas boys tend to drift towards STEM careers, but why is that? Is it our innate biological, physical and mental differences of being male and female? Or discrimination in the workplace?

With more than 80% of girls taking up the social care workforce it has been loosely thrown around that, ‘girls care more’ and men are ‘harder working’, but is there really any fact behind this? Traditionally men have gone out to work to bring back food and money for the family, whereas women tended to stay at home and look after the family. As much as we try and close the divide between men and women, there will always be differences in how we have been biologically wired. For example, women tend to be better at multi-tasking then men, which is useful if you are trying to look after a household. Whereas men are more laser-focused in completing a task; such as historically hunting for food. Women also have a keener sense of hearing than men. The female brain is ‘programmed’ to hear a child’s cry, whilst a majority of men will sleep right through it as if nothing has happened. And if a kitten meows somewhere, a woman is far more likely to hear it than a man. However, equally fascinatingly, men can discern the direction from which a sound is coming better than women. This again reinforces that our bodies have been designed differently to take on different tasks.

However, the question is, do any of these innate differences between sexes make a difference in how we learn, work and develop in these STEM subjects? As part of a study, 2,500 biologists and physicist (both men and women) at elite U.S. research universities were asked to take a survey to examine how they felt about different proportions of men and women in biology and physics. They found that specific disciplines are typed as more closely related to emotional labour, and thus more feminine. The scientists they asked, linked biology to feelings and more concrete concepts, and they associated physics with hard, abstract math. One female physics professor said she thought “women want to have more of a sense that what they are doing is helping somebody.” Both male and female scientists connected higher representation in biology to the perceived emotional content of biological research. Also, many male scientist felt the mathematical nature of physics may make it less suitable for women. Male brains tend to be more analytical, which is why they seemed to be better suited for a role in physics.

However, there is one other key factor we may have left out too long, gender discrimination. In the same survey, both male and female scientists view gender discrimination as a factor in women deciding to choose biology over physics. Out of half of all the scientists they interviewed thought that, at some point during their education, women are discouraged from pursuing a career in physics. However, during interviews, men almost never mentioned present-day discrimination. On the other hand, female scientists believe they still face discrimination once they are working in university science departments.

There is the argument, that women are merely better at biological sciences, so it is only right to steer them towards that direction. However this doesn’t apply to all people, and it can get to the point where a man could be chosen over his more intelligent female counterpart, solely because he is male. For many girls finishing their GCSEs and A Levels the route to being a biologist seems a lot easier, with potentially less discrimination and more role models to follow.

In conclusion, I believe that the three main factors of this large divide with men and women choosing physics and biology, is down to firstly the little innate differences of being male and female. Secondly, the gender discrimination hindering the chances of a young woman turning in to a proclaimed scientist. Thirdly, the lack of encouragement shown by teachers to try and get more women to pursue physics, leaving it for the male counterparts. But does any of this really matter? Things have obviously fallen in to place for a reason, with girls drifting to more caring sciences and men to more analytical sciences. However I feel this has been more forcibly put in place, with teachers pushing girls to head for the biological sciences and leave the physics to the boys.