The Place That Doesn't Believe in Female Scientists

The Place That Doesn't Believe in Female Scientists

Why you should care

Because you wouldn’t want to discourage the next great scientist. She could change the world.

Quick — what’s your first association with Vikings and high quality of life? If you said Scandinavia, we wish you were here so we could give you the OZY sweatshirt off our back. Scandinavia has robust social safety nets and policies that emphasize gender equality. Hell, Scandinavian countries took four of the top five spots on the World Economic Forum’s 2014 Global Gender Gap Index. But in the closet with all their goody-two-shoes is at least one skeleton: science. A recent paper published in the Journal of Educational Psychology found that:

The Danish still largely believe that all scientists are men.

They also believe that — wait for it — “female scientist” is an oxymoron. “It’s a Scandinavian paradox,” says David Miller, the lead author and a Ph.D. student of psychology at Northwestern University. Self-selected participants filled out surveys through the Project Implicit website. They were asked to rate on a scale “how much you associate science with males or females.” The results, which used responses from nearly 350,000 participants and points the finger particularly at Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands, are even more surprising when you learn that the same research shows the Danes are 50 percent more biased than the Lebanese or Belarusians. Iranians and Malaysians were far less prone to believe that science is a man’s world. Even Turkey beat out Denmark. Not to kick Iran when it’s down or rub anything in Scandinavia’s face, but really?

So is the stereotype about Scandinavian progressive values falling apart like an Ikea couch? Not quite, but the notion is more nuanced than we may have thought. Norway, for example, has much smaller gaps in labor force participation, but in certain fields, like science, the gender gap is still large. Meaning: Women work, just not in certain areas. Only about a third of Norwegian science majors and researchers are women, according to UNESCO data used in Miller’s study. That’s compared with half in Thailand. Another recent study found that violence against women in Scandinavia was particularly high — in Denmark, more than half of women have experienced physical or sexual violence. As for the Netherlands, progressive views around sexuality and, of course, drugs have not translated to gender equality, says Simone Buitendijk, vice rector of Leiden University. “The world thinks we’re progressive, but in many ways, we are not,” she says.

Of course, there are inherent problems with any self-reported study. If anyone gets to go online and take part, that means the sample likely won’t be representative of the population as a whole. For one, the percentage of the population that can access the Internet from one country to another is wide-ranging.

But the results are nonetheless striking. Scandinavians, it’s time to take a lesson from the online backlash unleashed against a Caltech astronomy professor after he quipped that scientists are “boys with toys.” To which we second the Internet: #girlswithtoys.

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