Premature Occupational Paths: Why Teen Girls Lose their Attraction to STEM—Eva Marder



"What do you want to be when you grow up?" It's one of the most common questions that follows teenagers well into adulthood, yet only 4 in 10 college students feel prepared for their future careers. As a teenager, how should you know what job to aspire to if you have only experienced or heard of a quarter of them? Schools are beginning to ask themselves these questions to revitalize the expectation of 17 and 18-year-olds to choose a career path- one they often know little about or have minuscule say in picking. The data surrounding teens with STEM career aspirations have significantly muddied because of their inexperience in the field. Who would want to make a career based on their limited high school exposure to the compulsory STEM curriculum? When choosing a job, the group most disadvantaged by this STEM unawareness is female teenagers.


As they consider their occupational plans, women must often weigh their work and family life differently than men. The gender disparity in STEM career aspirations appears early because of this balance that requires increasing thought from girls as they get older. For high school students in STEM classes, the gender difference in projected STEM career paths presents itself across grades: only 28% of girls in each of the first three years of high school plan to pursue a career in STEM, according to the Student Research Foundation. Although lack of experience is not a proven cause of this figure, work-family orientation plays an ever-growing role in diluting girls' opportunities to familiarize themselves with STEM pathways. While men must also balance work and family life, they seldom face the question, "But when will you have children?" after planning their fields of study. Men are more likely than women to feel very prepared for their careers, according to the Mcgraw Hill Education's Work Readiness survey. However, as reported in the study, only 4 in 10 college students feel prepared for their future careers in total, as mentioned above.


One occupational field that is rapidly growing as a supplement and alternative to STEM is entrepreneurship. As of 2019, 41% of teens would consider becoming an entrepreneur, according to Junior Achievement USA. More interestingly, Junior Achievement USA found that 61% of teen girls have contemplated starting a business while only 54% of teen boys have thought the same. Although most teens will not start a business before 18, entrepreneurship is a perfect opportunity for women to indirectly break into STEM via the growing tech and science entrepreneurial sectors. However, fear and inexperience plague the trajectories of these business hopefuls, as with STEM career seekers. Jack Kosakowski, President and CEO of Junior Achievement USA, said that youth are majorly concerned about "the risks associated with entrepreneurship." Most importantly, "young people need more information and role models to help them better understand what's involved in starting a business and give them the confidence they need to pursue their dreams."


Like any career field that requires intense planning, STEM and entrepreneurship tend to deter teens with their risks of financial failure and lengthy degree completion. But what makes starting a business more attractive to teenagers? Why are teen girls more likely to consider a career in entrepreneurship than STEM, even if one field leads to the other? These questions warrant a re-evaluation of what schools ask teens to project and plan about their careers just as they begin to find footing in regular life.


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