Fifth of Israeli Women Believe Men Better Suited for Science

According to a poll, women underrate themselves even though they often outscore men in terms of knowledge.

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The number of scientific studies per capita in Israel has gradually declined over the past few decades.
She knows what she's doing. Credit: Bloomberg
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Fully 25 percent of Israelis think men engage in science more than women because of inherent differences between the sexes, a survey commissioned by the Science and Technology Ministry found.

In the poll conducted by the company Geocartography, this belief was espoused by 29 percent of men and 21 percent of women, and was particularly prevalent among religious-Zionist and ultra-Orthodox Jews at 37 percent.

Moreover, women believe themselves to be less scientifically knowledgeable than men do, even though women often outscore men in terms of knowledge.

Also, women are less interested in many scientific subjects than men are. For instance, only 13 percent of women are interested in robotics, compared with 40 percent of men.

Certain fields do interest many women, including health and medicine at 70 percent, computers and the Internet at 51 percent, and the environment at 48 percent.

But even in those areas, women think themselves less knowledgeable than men do. For instance, men evaluated their knowledge of computers and the Internet at an average level of 7.6 out of 10, compared with 6.1 for women. This 1.5-point gap was similar in many other fields such as robotics and energy.

In part, this may be because women attribute less importance to scientific knowledge. Only 54 percent of women thought scientific and technological knowledge was necessary in their daily lives, compared with 70 percent of men.

But it certainly isn’t because they know less. According to the survey, they often have a better grasp of basic scientific facts and principles than men do.

For instance, asked whether the father’s DNA determines the baby’s sex, 78 percent of women correctly said yes, compared with 71 percent of men. Asked whether electrons were smaller than atoms, 64 percent of women correctly said yes, compared with 55 percent of men.

“The data accurately reflect the underrepresentation of women in fields like computer science, engineering, robotics and energy. Women don’t see themselves as having knowledge of or interest in these fields due to a preconception that these fields are better suited to men,” said Prof. Nurit Yirmiya, the Science and Technology Ministry’s chief scientist.

“Part of our goal at the Science Ministry is to expose women to a different picture of the world, in which today computers and engineering aren’t fields with grease under the fingernails but diverse fields with many applications to the world of women.”

The poll also examined the prestige of various scientific areas; here it found no gender differences. Men and women alike deemed medicine, high-tech and engineering the most prestigious.

Being a scientist was also considered relatively prestigious; 28 percent of women and 37 percent of men said they would recommend that their child become a scientist.

The survey, conducted among a sample of 530 Israelis, was commissioned in honor of Israel Science Day, which falls Tuesday.

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