Taiwanese study finds single-sex schools encourage girls to take sciences

10 April 2019

A Taiwanese study has found that girls in single-sex high schools have a greater propensity to choose the science curriculum track in the their senior years than girls attending co-educational high schools, and that this effect is even greater for girls with top maths ability.

Research by Xunfei Li and Professor Ping-Yun Kuan of Taiwan’s National Chengchi University found that in Taiwan, where students must choose to follow a science or humanities track in senior high school, the gender disproportion in the science track has been “unaltered for decades”. This has led to a gender gap in the selection of STEM majors at college (university) with male students far more likely to choose STEM majors than females.

Many previous international studies in this area have been hampered by self-selection bias since students are not randomly assigned to single-sex or co-educational schools and studies are often based on students from fee-paying schools. Li and Kuan were able to overcome these factors due to Taiwan’s educational system featuring public and private single-sex schools, both of which enrol students of diverse academic ability and family background.

In Taiwan, senior high school students take Chinese, Maths and English. In addition, they must choose between the science track (Physics, Chemistry and Biology) and the humanities track (History, Geography, Civics and social studies courses). Further differentiating the streams, students taking the science track take a more advanced maths course than those in the humanities track.

Using data from the nationally representative dataset collected by the Taiwan Education Panel Survey (TEPS), a longitudinal study from 2001 to 2007, Li and Kuan found a significant difference between girls and boys in their track selection, with male students being twice as likely to choose the science track compared with female students. In general, 72.3 per cent of boys took the science track compared with 36.8 per cent of girls.

However, “significantly more girls in girls-only schools had selected science track than those in co-educational schools”, with 47.1 per cent of girls in girl-only schools choosing the science track compared with 34.5 per cent of girls in co-educational schools. In addition, their results show that for girls with high maths performance (in the top quartile), the probability of choosing the science track in a single-sex school is 0.168 higher than for girls in co-educational schools.

Li and Kuan conclude that single-sex high schools are more likely to promote female students to take the science track in general, with 47.1 per cent of girls single-sex schools taking the science track compared with 34.5 per cent of girls in co-educational schools. They also found that girls’ schools particularly encourage girls with high maths performance to take the science track, whereas if they were in the co-educational environment “their motivation would probably be suppressed”.

As previous Taiwanese studies have shown that the selection of STEM majors at college is “preconditioned” by choosing the science track at school, Li and Kuan’s study demonstrates that girls-only schools are making an important contribution to increasing the number of women pursuing STEM degrees and careers in Taiwan.


Li, X. & Kuan, P-Y. (2018, May 25-27). The effect of single-sex schooling on high school girls’ curriculum tracking selection in Taiwan. Paper presented to the 2018 Spring Meeting of the Research Committee on Social Stratification and Mobility (RC28) of the International Sociological Association, Yongsei University, Seoul, Korea.

Note: This paper has been cited with the permission of the authors.

Image courtesy of Abbotsleigh