In both Japan and England, mathematics is still perceived as a 'masculine' field

·2-min read
In Japan, the idea that men are 'more suited' to scientific fields is still widespread. A cliché that can also be found in the United Kingdom.

In the scientific sphere, women remain underrepresented. To better understand the extent to which gender stereotypes contribute to maintaining these inequalities, Japanese researchers conducted a comparative study between England and Japan.

Published in the Journal of Understanding of Science , this study proves that gender stereotypes can strongly influence the share of women and men in a profession. Let's take Japan as an example: previous work by researchers at the University of Tokyo has shown that the idea that men are "more suited" to scientific fields than their female counterparts is still widespread. This cliché is also found in the United Kingdom, where a "masculine" image is associated with disciplines such as physics or mathematics.

How can we understand the underlying mechanisms of this underrepresentation of women specifically in the field of science? This is the precise question that the authors of this publication have attempted to answer, through two independent online surveys conducted in England and Japan.

More than 1,000 Japanese and 1,000 English people (made up of equal numbers of men and women) were surveyed online during March and June 2019. The study authors observed gender stereotypes associated with science in both countries surveyed.

For example, the Japanese have a negative image of women who are considered "intellectuals" (including women scientists) and readily view mathematics as a "masculine" discipline.

The English, on the other hand, evoked a commonly held belief that choosing a particular faculty or department at university might make you less attractive to a person of the opposite sex.

"Our study shows that we must also remain sensitive to what works in each social context. There is no 'one size fits all' solution," emphasized Hiromi M. Yokoyama, one of the co-authors of the research.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the share of women in science, mathematics and computer science in academia averages 39% worldwide. These estimates vary by country, however, with Portugal (57%), Italy (53%), and Turkey (50%) having the highest scores. The UK (46%) is just above the OECD average, while Japan is far behind (25%).

Léa Drouelle