Researchers at the University of Surrey have found that girls who play video games are more likely to pursue a degree in physical science, technology, engineering, or maths (STEM) compared to their non-gaming counterparts.

Credit: Pixabay.

The new study — led by Dr. Anesa Hosein, a self-confessed ‘geek girl’ with a rich gamer past — combed through two secondary datasets: a cross-sectional study of the Net Generation, involving 814 participants, and the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England, which included 7,342 people.

The analysis revealed that girls studying a STEM degree were more likely to be gamers and engage in multiplayer gaming. What’s more, 13- to 14-year-old girls classified as ‘heavy gamers’ (more than 9 hours a week of video games) were three times more likely to pursue a PTSEM degree compared to non-gamer girls.

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Interestingly, the same association wasn’t found in boys, who had a similar ratio of gamers regardless of the degree type. This suggests that there may be less pressure to conform to the video gamer stereotype for boys studying a STEM degree.

“Despite the pioneering work of people like Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Surrey’s own Daphne Jackson, the first female Physics professor, there are still too few female PSTEM role models for young women,” said Dr. Hosein in a statement.

“However, our research shows that those who study PTSEM 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.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, technology professionals will experience the highest growth in job numbers up to 2030, but if current trends are not addressed, only a fraction of girls and women are likely to pursue degrees that will qualify them for these new jobs.

Girls are 58 times less likely to do a physical STEM degree than no degree at all. What’s more, even when girls do graduate from a STEM field of study, they are much less likely than boys to work as professionals in these fields, more often choosing to become teachers. Data from a subset of OECD countries show that, among graduates with science degrees, 71% of men and only 43% of women work as professionals in physics, mathematics, and engineering. It is not surprising, bearing these findings in mind, that across OECD countries, only 13.7% of the inventors who filed patents are women.

There is no clear-cut solution to bridging the gender gap in science, but the new study suggests that educators should target girl gamers in order to encourage them to pursue a STEM degree. For instance, teachers could invite ‘geek girls’ to gaming expert talks or they could include gaming in STEM degrees to increase engagement of girl gamers.

The findings appeared in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.