Could Parental Aspirations Be Behind Gender Gap in STEM?

  • 20% of parents would pick engineering careers for their daughters, vs 30% for sons
  • Only 8% of parents wish their sons to go into teaching while almost a quarter (24%) wish it for their daughters

Despite the growing impetus to narrow the gap between the numbers of males and females in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education and careers, new research by Wonder Workshop has shown that there is still a significant difference between the careers that parents aspire to on behalf of their children, with STEM industries still being viewed as predominantly male.

The figures for Engineering – an area which has recently been described as facing a skills crisis in the UK – delivered one of the most notable splits, with almost a third (30%) of all parents considering engineering as a valid career choice for their sons, while only 20% would encourage their daughters to take this path.

Interestingly, more accountants (31.11%) would choose Civil and Structural Engineering as a career for their daughters than engineers would (25%), although of the engineers who’d like their children to go into the field, more viewed it as a suitable career for their daughters (66%) than their sons (33%). Other parents in STEM careers also took this view, with 75% of scientists wishing their daughters to go into engineering, vs 60% viewing it as a suitable option for their sons.

Only in the East Midlands is the overall trend in regards to parental views towards engineering being bucked. There, 42.8% of parents wished their daughters to pursue engineering, while in the South West that figure dropped to 12.2%.

But Engineering is by no means alone in this gender division. Despite paying lip service to gender equality, it seems that as a society we still hold fixed views about male and female roles in the workplace. In Education, for example, only 8% of parents considered teaching a suitable career choice for their sons, vs 24% of parents of girls. Which might go some way towards explaining why 85% of primary level teachers are currently female. Although, London did present an interesting anomaly in this area, with only 13% of girl’s parents favouring the field.

This research by the people behind the leading robotics and programming system for children, Wonder Workshop, showed that there is even a significant difference in parental aspirations for the tech and IT sectors, despite the fact that tech has become such an integral part of everyone’s lives. 18.9% of people would like their daughters to become involved in the industry, while 27.5% aspire to a tech career for their sons.

Interestingly, however, it seems that fathers are less ingrained in the concept of traditional roles for their daughters than mothers. 27% of dads would like their daughters to become involved in IT, while only 18% of mums share the same view. Scientific research is another area where fathers champion daughters, with 26% hoping their daughters will enter this profession, vs 20% of mothers.

Tabi Bude, Managing Director of Wonder Workshop Europe, comments:

‘For a long time now, people have been looking into the reasons behind the gender gap in STEM. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics have been recognised as some of the most important academic fields, with an increasing demand for the associated skills across pretty much every employment sector. And yet they’re still largely male-dominated. This research might go some way towards explaining why.

‘Children are, unavoidably, influenced by the society in which they live and are raised. If parents, no matter how well-meaning, view a career as unsuitable for their children, this information will inevitably be absorbed by the kids themselves. Regardless of how independent you view yourself to be, if you grow up hearing that certain roles are for men to carry out and other roles are for women, then this has a strong likelihood of influencing your life choices.

‘While no one will argue against the idea that parents want the best for their kids, a lack of understanding amongst parents as to the validity and availability of STEM careers could be one of the reasons that the gender gap still exists in this area.’