In the largest such study, researchers have found that stereotypes associating science with men are the strongest in the Netherlands and widely prevalent in Scandinavian countries like Norway and Denmark, than in developing countries such as Pakistan or Vietnam.
The study involving 350,000 people in 66 nations found that the gender-science stereotype was the strongest in the Netherlands. The findings came as a surprise as the Scandinavian countries are far more advanced in terms of lowering maternal mortality and increasing women's parliamentary representation and labour force participation.
"In fact, Scandinavian nations generally had stronger stereotypes than the US," said lead author of the study David Miller from Northwestern University in the US.
While Pakistan ranked 62 in the list of 66 countries, the gender-science stereotype was found to be the weakest in Vietnam. India was not included in the study.
"These stereotypes are important because they can contribute to outcomes such as biased hiring decisions according to prior studies," Miller noted.
Through a website called Project Implicit, the study participants rated how much they associated science with males or females. Another measure assessed how quickly they associated science words such as "math" and "physics" with male words such as "boy" and "man."
Neither measure asked whether participants thought men or women were more competent in science. The researchers found that gender-science stereotypes were weaker in nations with more female science majors and researchers.
The findings suggest optimism that gender-science stereotypes will weaken as people see more women in science. The study appeared online in the Journal of Educational Psychology.