The Gender Gap in High School Physics: Considering the Context of Local Communities


  • Information on coding for replication purposes is available from the first author. This research was supported by a grant awarded to the Population Research Center (5 R24 HD042849) at The University of Texas at Austin by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Health and Child Development, and also by a grant from the National Science Foundation (DUE-0757018), Chandra Muller, PI, Catherine Riegle-Crumb, Co-PI, and R. Kelly Raley, Co-PI. This research used data from Add Health, a program designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris and funded by Grant P01-HD31921 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 17 other agencies. Opinions reflect those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the granting agencies. Persons who are interested in obtaining restricted-use data files from Add Health should contact Add Health, Carolina Population Center, 123 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516–2524.



We focus on variation in gender inequality in physics course-taking, questioning the notion of a ubiquitous male advantage. We consider how inequality in high school physics is related to the context of students’ local communities, specifically the representation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) occupations in the labor force.


This study uses nationally representative data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and its education component, the Adolescent Health and Academic Achievement Transcript Study.


Approximately half of schools are characterized by either gender equality or even a small female advantage in enrollment in this traditionally male subject. Furthermore, variation in the gender gap in physics is related to the percent of women who are employed in STEM occupations within the community.


Our study suggests that communities differ in the extent to which traditionally gendered status expectations shape beliefs and behaviors.