Gender, culture and STEM: Counter-intuitive patterns in Arab society

Naomi Friedman-Sokuler, Moshe Justman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Using longitudinal administrative data to track student achievement and choice, we show how social conditioning shapes gender differences in the choice of STEM study fields, after controlling for prior achievement and socio-economic background. The male majority in advanced matriculation electives in mathematics, physics, and computer science, observed among students in Hebrew-language schools in Israel as in other Western societies, is reversed among Arab students, a society with markedly less gender equality. This greater representation of Arab female students in STEM study fields is only partially explained by the large gender gap favoring girls in eighth-grade mathematics and science achievement in Arabic-language schools. Much of the remaining difference in gender gaps can be traced to differences in the relationship between prior circumstance and choice between the two groups. This belies the notion of a congenital female aversion to traditionally male STEM subjects, and accords with previous findings that gender differences in preferences are greater in societies with greater gender equality. Following a cohort of eight-grade students to matriculation eliminates the selection bias that attenuates estimates of gender gaps in studies that analyze choices of college-bound students.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101947
JournalEconomics of Education Review
Early online date25 Dec 2019
StatePublished - Feb 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier Ltd


  • Arab society
  • Culture
  • Educational choice
  • Gender gap in mathematics
  • STEM


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