New research explores how access to technology helps put girls on par with boys.
By Maya Salam
“By teaching our girls to code, we’re not just preparing them to enter the work force — we’re preparing them to lead it.”
— Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that aims to close the gender gap in technology
I have six nieces between the ages of 10 and 19, and over the years, I’ve spent many hours staring at them hunched over small screens, hypnotized by the glowing light and tapping away like mad. So much for quality time with their adoring auntie.
I usually manage to temper my impulse to snatch the device from their fingers, though — in part because I know that being well-versed in technology, particularly as girls, is going to serve them well: Over the last decade, opportunities in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math) have grown three times faster than in non-STEM fields, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Research by the Girl Scout Research Institute, out this week, drove that point home — showcasing through a survey of 2,900 girls and boys ages 5 to 17 (along with their parents) how access to smartphones, tablets, laptops and gaming devices helps put girls on par with boys when it comes to tech, or exceed them in some respects.
Among the study’s most fascinating takeaways:
- Boys play games for fun, while girls use tech to learn. The vast majority of children use their devices to watch videos and movies, listen to music and to play games. But while boys are more likely than girls to play games for fun — 81 percent versus 72 percent — girls are playing to learn, the study found. Girls also read books and articles on devices more than boys do, 40 percent compared with 28 percent. And girls are more inclined to use technology to create something new, whether it be videos or coding projects; to discover a new talent or interest; or to connect to social issues.
- Still, boys remain more confident in their skills. Even if girls are spending more time learning, it’s boys who are more likely to believe they are the tech experts of their families, 53 percent versus 38 percent of girls. Parents may have something to do with that: In the study, they tended to give sons more credit for figuring out new technology on their own while reporting that their daughters learn technology from someone else, whether it be a parent, sibling or friend.
- Parents give sons more digital freedom. A variety of research has found that girls are more likely to be targeted by false rumors online, as well as to receive unwanted explicit messages. That might explain why parents of girls have stricter rules for their daughters’ social media activity — they’re more likely to require permission to download apps, turn on privacy settings or ask girls to share their passwords.
- The future is bright (if we intervene at the right moment). “By teaching our girls to code, we’re not just preparing them to enter the work force — we’re preparing them to lead it,” Reshma Saujani, chief executive ofGirls Who Code, said last year. Andaccording to theGirl Scouts’ study, timing is crucial: Girls are the most interested in STEM careers in middle school, but that number drops sharply, by about 15 percent, between middle school and high school. (Despite increasing demand for STEM workers, women account for just about 25 percent of graduates in these fields, The Times reported in November.) The Girl Scouts’ recommendation to keep girls engaged: Get involved! Particularly early in high school, which it calls “an important intervention point.”______
What else is happening
Here are five articles from The Times you might have missed.
- “Our national history of inequality is something that we have yet to succeed in getting rid of.” Early feminists issued a declaration of independence. Where is it now? [Read the story]
- “This is my space.” Kirsten Gillibrand has made running as a woman, for women, the central theme of her campaign. [Read the story]
- “A woman, just not that woman.” Few people admit they would hesitate to vote for a woman for president, but they don’t have to. The reluctance is apparent.[Read the story]
- “Especially if you’re a female, your life is so disposable.” The adult daughter of Dubai’s ruler tried to escape a life of stultifying restrictions. She was captured at sea, forcibly taken back, and has not been heard from since. [Read the story]
- “People are trying to represent themselves in emojiland.” Among a host of new emojis recently announced is a drop of blood to symbolize menstruation. [Read the story]
Dean Mabel S. Douglass would have been proud of me. I managed to escape “the danger years of a woman” without succumbing entirely to “bridge, luncheons, dinner parties and the petty details of housekeeping” — all things she warned of when speaking to 500 alumnae the New Jersey College of Women at a reunion in 1931.
The “danger years,” she said, began right after graduation and extended for 10 to 15 years, according to an article in The Times.
“It is during this time the women sink themselves either in the petty details of their work or in the care of their homes and children,” she said, adding that “real success” means staying “intellectually alive and abreast of the world’s events.”