Study Finds Wage Gap Linked to High School Subject Choices

​News bulletin: 10 March 2016

Twho students work on a whiteboard.A University of Melbourne study of high school subject choices has found that girls are less likely to choose science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) subjects than boys, despite many girls testing better in these subjects.

The study links the under-representation of women in high-paying jobs in engineering and information technology to the high school subjects’ girls choose.

The research used the data of 58,000 students, following them from Year 7 in 2008 to high school graduation in 2013. 

‘We found that girls simply aren’t doing the subjects required in order to launch a career in the highly paid engineering or IT industries,’ said co-author Dr Susan Méndez.

The research showed that even girls who are good at mathematics are much less likely to choose physics and information technology than equally skilled boys. Yet girls who choose these subjects actually perform better on average than boys.

‘Girls who are good at mathematics favour biology and human development, subjects that can launch a career in allied health. These professions are generally not as well paid as other STEM industries,’ said Dr Méndez.

‘Many girls who think they are not good enough at mathematics to study in physics and information technology could succeed at these subjects and should be encouraged to try.’

The study was conducted by the University’s Melbourne Institute Gendered Selection of STEM Subjects for Matriculation.