The number of women participating in America’s workforce has increased dramatically over the past 40 years. As more women receive a college degree, they are putting that education to use in the workplace. However, a 2009 statistic reveals that there is still a huge disparity in the number of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers. math girls

Click play below to listen to KMZU’s Elizabeth Orosco talk with David Geary, Curators Professor of Psychological Sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science.

A team of psychologists from the University of Missouri, the University of California-Irvine and University of Glasgow in Scotland believe the numbers could be a result of girls experiencing higher levels of “mathematics anxiety,” resulting in an avoidance of math topics.

The study, Countries with Higher Levels of Gender Equality Show Larger National Sex Differences in Mathematics Anxiety, discuss the sex differences in mathematics anxiety and contributions to this disparity.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, only 24 percent of individuals in STEM careers are female.

However, women have made huge strides in the work force in recent years. In 2014, 57 percent of women were in the labor force. The number of women who received a college degree more than tripled from 1970 to 2014, increasing from 11.2 percent to 40 percent. Women’s earnings as a proportion of men’s earnings also have grown over time.

“We analyzed student performance in 15-year-olds from around the world along with socio-economic indicators in more than 60 countries and economic regions, including the U.S. and the United Kingdom,” said Geary.

The case study states mathematics anxiety is a psychological factor that can undermine the pursuit of mathematics, and refers to the negative feelings (affect) experienced during the preparation of and during explicit engagement in mathematical pursuits. This construct is related to a host of negative academic outcomes, including lower enjoyment in the domain, lower intent to pursue and excel in mathematics, lower mathematics-related self-efficacy, and poorer mathematical achievement throughout the academic career.

Although the report did not find that the numbers were a result of whether the girl’s mothers, aunts or other female family members held STEM careers, what they did find was that boys reported higher perceived parental valuation of mathematics than did girls, and parents actually rated mathematical development as more important for sons than for daughters.

Overall, Geary said that even if students do not desire to enter into a math-related field, developing math skills is important and will help in other areas of life.

To read the full study, click here.