Is There a Science Class Divide?

This article on the New Scientist website raises the interesting question of whether it is a class divide which lies behind the slow-down in STEM graduates in recent years, and why employers continue to complain that there aren’t enough suitable candidates for the STEM jobs available.

The article discusses ‘science capital’, which refers to the engagement and interest in science that a student develops throughout their education and personal life. Apparently, having a high level of science capital is much more common in the middle class, and so this is leading to a class divide between the middle class students who aspire to work in science, and the working class who show generally less interest.

As a chemistry PhD student who comes from an extremely working class family who have no experience working in any sort of scientific area, and who went to a school with very limited science facilities and sub-par science teachers, I find this difficult to come to terms with. Both me and my older sister went to university to study chemistry, and neither our family or our school seem to have had anything to do with this. Our teachers were terrible, our school was under-funded and struggling, and we rarely had any engagement with scientific matter of any sort. Nevertheless, we both showed a strong interest in science, and went on to study it further. Although my sister has since changed career path completely, I aspire to continue working in the chemical sciences for the rest of my life. Chemistry in general seems to contain a good amount of working class students in my experience, and several of my peers have a similar background to me.

Nevertheless, the statistics do speak for themselves, and it would seem more STEM students than ever are coming from middle class backgrounds. Therefore, do solutions need to be found which can bring the classes closer together, and allow more people to enter STEM areas?

The article names several programmes which aim to increase students’ science capital and get them more interested in science and university at a younger age. I’ve seen many outreach activities carried out at my own university which encourage children from underprivileged backgrounds to learn a bit about chemistry and get interested in a life of science.

Have you noticed a class divide in your personal experience? Do you think more needs to be done to fix this problem?


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