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In Japan, women’s enrollment in STEM programs remains low, and that could be tied to the stereotypical gender roles that are assigned to males and females at childhood, according to a new study out of the University of Tokyo.

“In Japan, women’s participation in STEM fields remains lower than in the west,” reads a statement by the researchers.

“Japan ranked 110 out of 149 countries on a 2018 gender-gap survey, underscoring Japanese women’s limited participation in the economy and government. However, despite multiple government and industry initiatives, encouraging greater participation across society is challenging in a country where gender role divisions are deeply entrenched.”

For their study, researchers used a psychological measure of gender role attitudes called SESRA-S to measure parent’s attitudes towards STEM subjects.

A group of 618 mothers and 618 fathers were then asked in an online survey how they felt about girls choosing to study a range of STEM-related fields.

VIDEO: Inspiring girls to study STEM

“However, we were interested not just in whether they supported girls choosing STEM subjects,” lead author Hiromi Yokoyama, professor at the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe, said in a statement.

“We wanted to know why they supported or opposed girls participating in those fields, and also what image they held of each field. We expected that there might be some differences.”


“We were quite surprised to see that after pharmacy, IT was the STEM field most favored by parents,” Yokoyama said.

“While parents are sensitive to societal changes, some still maintain an image of engineering as not suitable for women, despite strong demand for female talent from across engineering fields. It may be that STEM fields need to update their image. We know that parents with positive attitudes towards gender equality can support girls going to university, so it is essential that we improve attitudes towards gender equality of society as a whole.”

More than 40 per cent of the respondents either “strongly agreed” or “somewhat agreed” with girls choosing a STEM field of their choice.

The parents who weren’t supportive of girls entering STEM fields cited a lack of job opportunities for women and expensive tuition costs as some of the reasons.

Inspiring scientists starts at home

Studies have shown that parental attitudes can have a large impact on children’s educational and career choices.

“Parents are their children’s first and most important teachers. Their values, beliefs, and actions have an enormous influence on their child’s educational decision-making and achievement,”  writes Lynda Colgan, Professor of Elementary Mathematics, Queen’s University.

“When parents convey an interest and excitement for STEM subjects, children benefit attitudinally and academically.”

That, combined with pre-conceptions about girls’ ability to participate in STEM, can make all the difference in whether or not a child decides to pursue STEM.

Experts say increasing visibility is one way to encourage all underrepresented minorities to enter a field and may help counteract negative gender associations.

“Stereotypes can also be challenged by exposing girls to examples of women who have succeeded in STEM,” writes Jilana Boston, Ph.D. Student in Cognitive Development, New York University and Andrei Cimpian, Associate Professor of Psychology, New York University.

“The key is to portray these women as relatable and to highlight how they became scientists, making it easier for girls to envision themselves following a similar path to success.”