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First, probably because of the gender stereotyping that lands boys in maths and sciences, while girls head more for the softer subjects, like literature and history. (There are lots of theories for that, but the one I agree with most is that girls are more interested in people's inner motivations (generally speaking) while guys typically like to figure out the outside world. It's certainly not the only, nor probably the best theory, but it's what I see in my own experience.) Physics, unfortunately, has a reputation for being all advanced math and formulas. So if the stereotype is keeping girls out of higher-level math classes, they will probably not do well in physics.
Personally, I think we also kill the interest in physics for everyone by trying to instill the basics before learning what the basics are for. I hated physics (and I am a "girl") i high school because I was bad at math. But in college, I had to take a Physics for Stagecraft course because I was working on backstage crew in the rigging and lights. Suddenly all that boring stuff had application. Because of that class, I see the basics of physics everywhere, and it's beautiful.
If it has no application, it's just a bunch of boring math formulas. Which makes it hard for many girls who just don't, for whatever reason, like math.
It will be interesting to see if this division holds up over time. The number of young women attending college has begun to exceed the number of young men attending, and it will be interesting to see if young women begin to dominate in physics as they have begun to dominate in other areas as well.
Some evolutionary psychologists argue that men and women tended to develop different mental skills because of their different roles in prehistory. This argument claims that men had to be more spatially oriented because they were the ones who went out hunting for game. Whether this argument is persuasive is a different question.
I generally agree with Post #2 that this is an issue of socialization and gender stereotyping. I suppose it could also be related to the idea that the applications of physics can be seen in "guy" things like the way a ball flies through the air or in the trajectory of a projectile shot from a cannon.
That said, one of the smartest students I ever taught now works for Lockheed as a (for want of a better term) rocket scientist and she was and is female.
This is an interesting topic and begs the larger question, "why do female students move away from STEM type classes/careers?" I teach middle school math, and contrary to what many believe, female students are every bit as interested and successful in math as their male counterparts.
Something seems to happen once female students leave middle school. Math, science, and technology seems to become less of an option or possibility for female students.
I agree with previous posts regarding the need for ties between the learning of the material and the application to the real-world. I do believe both secondary education and colleges and universities are doing a much better job of creating these ties now. Not so much in my day.
However, at my son's college, Colorado School of Mines, http://www.mines.edu/, the males outnumber the frmales 3 to 1!
The socialization probably already enhances biological differences between boys and girls. Applying stereotypes, as all know, is erroneous, but statistically, boys grasp spatial relations better than girls, and girls grasp social cues better than boys. Even if higher education goes 100% female, it won't change the fact that there are organic differences between the sexes where boys will tend to grasp the symbol manipulation more easily. Maybe this has to do with hormone levels during puberty onset. Of course, this does not mean that every individual boy will outperform every individual girl in physics. It would be interesting to evaluate girls who excel in physics, to see if their brain wiring and chemistry differs from most other girls.
There is a disproportionate number of boys who go into science, especially physics, compared to girls. This is not because girls are not smart enough. It is mostly because they do not see the jobs that are available, or do not know enough about them.
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