Research: Boys Say They're More Likely to Pursue STEM Careers Than Girls


Teenage boys say they are more likely to pursue STEM careers than girls, according to research recently published by nonprofit Junior Achievement and professional services firm EY (formerly Ernst & Young).

More than one-third (36 percent) of boys surveyed said they would pursue STEM careers in the future, versus only 11 percent of girls. Twenty-six percent of girls said they plan to prepare for careers in the arts, compared to 10 percent of boys. However, 24 percent of girls said they are looking to pursue careers in the medical/dental field, vs. only 6 percent of boys. One can interpret the medical/dental field as being a “science” component of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). 

On behalf of Junior Achievement and EY, market research firm ORC International surveyed 1,000 13-17-year-olds between Feb. 28 and March 5, 2017. Of those surveyed, an impressive 91 percent of boys and girls said they know what kind of job they want after they graduate from high school.

However, boys and girls differed on career goals and values associated with dream jobs. The top three values for boys, when asked about their dream jobs, were:

  • Think it would be fun (28 percent);
  • I’d be good at it (21 percent); and
  • I’d make a lot of money (17 percent).

Among girls, the top three occupational values were:

  • I would help people (25 percent);
  • I’d be good at it (23 percent); and
  • I think it would be fun (20 percent).

“What we know from the data is what matters most to girls — which is helping people, and being good at it, and enjoying it —  doesn’t suggest STEM to them,” said Deborah Holmes, Americas director of corporate responsibility at EY, in an interview. “But it’s worth noting that girls were much more likely than boys to say that they want to be doctors, or work in the medical or dental field.”

Jack E. Kosakowski, president and CEO of Junior Achievement USA, said in a statement, “While it's encouraging to see teens today are giving a great deal of thought to their career aspirations, it's surprising to learn that there are still significant gaps between boys' and girls' interest in careers choice. We hoped to learn that girls, for example, would be more attracted to STEM careers beyond medicine — related to science, engineering, computers and math — since there is virtually unlimited opportunity for talented and qualified professionals in these fields.”

Boys and girls differed on certain skills they wanted to learn to get ready for their dream jobs. Fifty-four percent of boys said they wanted to acquire technology skills, vs. only 27 percent of girls; and 50 percent of girls said they wanted to improve their relationship building and collaboration, vs. 31 percent of boys.

Among boys and girls, 39 percent said they wanted to learn about speaking and giving presentations; 34 percent wanted to acquire more analytical and critical thinking skills; 26 percent wanted business knowledge; and only 16 percent said they wanted to improve their writing skills.

“You can’t actually communicate effectively using emojis,” Holmes said. “You need writing skills to compose e-mails and clear reports — these are important skills. These findings suggest that youth today don’t understand writing to be an important skill.”

Here are some other findings from the study:

  • Only 9 percent of boys and girls aim to start their own businesses;
  • Only 7 percent of girls and boys have decided that they will work in public service; 
  • The three top influences on career choices are parents and societal influences/TV/media, followed by a class or teacher;
  • In this survey, careers in STEM were defined further as scientist, researcher, engineer, computer programmer and physicist;
  • 52 percent of girls valued the ability to have a meaningful career and a family, vs. 46 percent of boys;
  • 45 percent of girls valued the ability to do something meaningful for the community/society, compared to 33 percent of boys;
  • 39 percent of boys valued flexibility in work schedule/location, vs. 36 percent of girls; and
  • 29 percent of boys valued professional advancement to become a leader or expert, compared to 23 percent of girls.

For more information about Junior Achievement, visit that organization’s website. More information about EY can be found at this site.

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].