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What’s the Problem with Girls and Computing?

% of CS bachelor degrees earned by women1

Graph showing % of CS bachelor degrees earned by women.

Nerdy man at laptop in a dark room.

It's no secret that young women have a largely negative opinion of computer science. Just 10% of college-bound high school girls have a "very good" opinion of computing, compared to 45% of boys. At the college level, the number of women undergraduates majoring in computer science has dropped a staggering 80% over the past decade.2

Yet girls take math and science classes at nearly the same rate as boys and perform as well or better. The job market for careers in computing is at an all-time high and is expected to grow even more. And the average starting salary for someone with a BS in computer science is an impressive $60,000.3 But spectacular job opportunities and high salaries have made little difference.

Why Are Girls So Turned Off?

According to a nationwide marketing survey we conducted of hundreds of high school girls,4 the words they commonly associated with computing included "boring," "hard," and "nerd." The stubborn stereotype of computing persists: it's seen as a career for highly intelligent misfits, overwhelmingly male, who work alone, glued to a computer screen, solving boring, irrelevant problems.

An Image That Runs Deep

Girls don't just object to the superficial image of computing as a haven for socially awkward loners. Their objections run much deeper—their perception is that computing doesn't reflect the values that are important to them or to the life they want to live.

According to our survey, girls felt that computing failed to deliver the three most important characteristics they wanted from a career:

  1. being passionate about their jobs (78%);
  2. doing interesting work (77%);
  3. having the power to do good and make a difference (56%).
Graph showing what teens value by gender.


Computing, as girls see it, doesn't deliver what they're looking for. They want work that's meaningful, interesting, and that inspires passion. They want to help people and contribute to a better world.

As long as teen girls believe that computer science is boring, antisocial, and doesn't have much impact on them personally or on solving the world's problems, can we blame them for looking elsewhere for a rewarding career?

  1. ^ National Science Foundation, Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, Table C-1, 2008.
  2. ^ Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), College Freshmen Survey, 2000–2009.
  3. ^ National Association of Colleges and Employers Salary Survey, Winter 2010.
  4. ^ Read a summary of our research, New Image for Computing: Report on Market Research (PDF).