The gender gap in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields seems to be determined by girls' superior language skills, which drives them to choose humanities-based professions. This is the conclusion of a study about reading and math performance carried out by researchers in France, involving thousands of high-school students around the world.

Previous research has revealed that while female and male students have similar abilities, the gender gap in STEM persists in further education. Girls are less likely to embrace STEM careers, in particular in math-intensive domains such as physics. Thomas Breda from the Paris School of Economics and Clotilde Nappfrom from the Université Paris Dauphine found that while boys and girls have comparable scores in math, significant differences do not falter in their reading scores over the years.

In general, female students who are good at mathematics are more likely to be better in reading than their male peers. This new study shows that two boys out of three have better results in math than in reading, while it is the case for only one in three girls. “A girl that is good at maths but even better at reading may feel less confident in maths and may favour humanities because she perceives herself as a verbal person,” says Breda. The persistent gender gap seems to be linked to cultural norms and social pressures.

Picture: Children Reading, by Édouard Vuillard (Google Art Project, Wikimedia Commons)