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Press Release · February 28, 2001

High School Girls Now Outnumber Boys In Most Math And Science Classes

But Female Enrollment Still Lags in Some Crucial Subjects, Study Finds

SAN FRANCISCO, California, February 28, 2001 – In contrast to conventional wisdom, high school girls in California public schools are enrolling in most science and math courses at higher rates than boys, according to a new study by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). In courses that fulfill entrance requirements for the University of California and California State University systems, girls enroll at higher rates in all subject areas except computer science. However, girls continue to lag behind boys in enrollment in some Advanced Placement (college level) math and science courses.

In Who’s Lagging Now? Gender Differences in Secondary Course Enrollments, author Anne Danenberg finds that 6 percent more girls than boys are now taking college-preparatory math courses, 7 percent more are taking physical science, and 16 percent more are taking life science. “Girls have always studied English, foreign languages, and social science in greater numbers, but with just one exception, they are now taking college prep math and science in greater numbers as well,” says Danenberg, a research associate at PPIC.

The subject areas where girls do lag, however, are key. The widest gap is in computer science, where there are 43 percent fewer girls in college-preparatory classes, and 72 percent fewer in Advance Placement (AP) courses. Girls are also enrolled at lower rates in AP physics, calculus, and chemistry, but the disparity is not as severe. “Although enrollment differences between girls and boys seem to be disappearing in most areas, the lag in computer science and AP physics is still cause for concern because these subjects prepare young people for some of today’s highest paying and most in-demand professions,” says Danenberg. “In computer science, we see the gap developing as far back as middle school, so it is essential to address this problem in the early grades.”

Other issues discussed in the study:

  • The difference in male and female course enrollment is narrower for whites and Asians than for other groups. The largest gaps exist between African-American girls and boys, with young males lagging substantially.
  • The enrollment gap in computer science between high school girls and boys is smaller in rural areas than in suburban areas.

The Public Policy Institute of California is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to objective, nonpartisan research on economic, social, and political issues that affect the lives of Californians. The Institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.