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More Than Just Achievement

While some science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields have reached about equal numbers of male and female college majors, some fields remain imbalanced. In a new analysis appearing in Science, researchers from New York University found that higher achievement in science and math, as gauged by high school grades and SAT scores, among men doesn't account for that gap.

In particular, they focused on physics, engineering, and computer science majors, as male majors outnumber female majors by about 4 to 1. Using data from the US Department of Education's High School Longitudinal Study of 2009, the NYU team found that high-achieving men and high-achieving women pursued physics, engineering, and computer science majors, but that more average- and low-achieving men major in the fields than women with higher scores.

"Physics, engineering, and computer science fields are differentially attracting and retaining lower-achieving males, resulting in women being underrepresented in these majors but having higher demonstrated STEM competence and academic achievement," first author Joseph Cimpian from NYU Steinhardt says in a statement.

According to the researchers, this indicates that efforts like role-model interventions and Girls Who Code may help eliminate the gender gap at the high end of the achievement spectrum, but that other interventions are needed to get average- and low-achieving women to major in physics, engineering, or computer science.