Girls who play video games more likely to study STEM degrees, new research finds

18 October 2018

Girls who are avid gamers are three times more likely to study physical science, technology, engineering and maths (PSTEM) degrees at university, compared to non-gamers.

Researchers at the University of Surrey analysed information on more than 7,000 people living in England who were born in 1989-90, and are being followed by Next Steps. When study members were in Year 9 they were asked how often they played video games, and at age 18, they reported whether they had gone on to university, and what subject they studied.

Findings showed that girls who spent over nine hours a week gaming were three times more likely to study a PSTEM degree.

Girls who were not into gaming were over twice as likely to do a biological science, technology, engineering and maths (BSTEM) degree, three times more likely to study Social Sciences, and four times more likely not to go to university at all than to do PSTEM degrees.

The link between gaming and degree choice remained even after taking into account other factors that might have affected choice of subject at university, such as ethnicity, socio-economic background and prior academic achievement.

The connection between gaming and degree choice was not as strong for boys. Among male study members, there were similar amounts of gamers regardless of degree type.

Only 4 per cent of girls pursued PSTEM degrees at university compared to 9 per cent of boys.

Dr Anesa Hosein, the lead author, said: “Despite the pioneering work of people like Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Daphne Jackson, the first female physics professor, there are still too few female PSTEM role models for young women.

“However, our research shows that those who study PSTEM subjects at degree level are more likely to be gamers, so we need to encourage the girl gamers of today to become the engineering and physics students and pioneers of tomorrow.

“It therefore makes sense, in the short-term, that educators seeking to encourage more take up of PSTEM subjects should target girl gamers, as they already may have a natural interest in these subjects. We need to get better at identifying cues early to recognise which girls may be more interested in taking up PSTEM degrees.”

Further information

‘Girls’ video gaming behaviour and undergraduate degree selection: A secondary data analysis approach’ by Dr Anesa Hosein was published in Computers in Human Behavior in October 2018.

Press release from the University of Surrey

The story was recently covered in The Conversation and Big Think.

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