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Youth perceptions and attitudes to STEM

Australia’s 2021 Youth in STEM survey by YouthInsight explored young people’s awareness and perceptions of STEM subjects and careers. The analysis below summarises key findings from YouthInsight’s report.

Interest, confidence and career aspirations in STEM

Compare interest, confidence, barriers and career aspirations of girls and boys at different ages and across different diversity groups.

Data insights

Implications of the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen young people’s perceptions of scientists making a positive impact in the world increase since 2019–2020.

38% of young people said they had reconsidered their study and career options as a direct result of COVID-19. Boys were most likely to have been influenced by COVID-19 compared to girls (40% and 35% respectively).

Young people also reported they were slightly or much more likely to consider future study or work in STEM as a result of COVID-19. 20% of girls said they were likely to choose STEM subjects as a result of the pandemic, compared to 16% of boys.

This table shows impact of COVID-19 on likelihood to study or work in specific STEM fields in the future:
















Understanding the STEM acronym

Understanding of what subjects make up STEM increased in 2021. This was driven mainly by a significant increase in boys’ understanding.

  • 67% of girls understood what subjects made up STEM, compared to 64% in 2019–20.
  • 62% of boys understood what subjects made up STEM, compared to 51% in 2019–20.

Interest in STEM

Girls’ interest in STEM subjects has not changed greatly since 2019–20.

Science remained the most interesting STEM subject for girls in 2021.

  • 62% of girls were interested in science in 2021, compared to 61% in 2019–20.
  • 64% of boys were interested in science in 2021, compared to 63% in 2019–20.

Girls were least interested in engineering.

  • 31% of girls were interested in engineering in 2021, compared to 30% in 2019–20.
  • 56% of boys were interested in engineering in 2021, compared to 57% in 2019–20.

Age is important for girls when it comes to interest in engineering

46% of girls aged 12 to 13 said they were interested in studying engineering. 

However, this interest falls as girls get older. Just 33% of girls aged 14 to 17 were interested in studying engineering, and this dropped to 26% for ages 18 to 21. 

Most girls who said they would like to work in STEM were aged 12 or 13, and 12% of them were interested in being an engineer. For girls aged 14 to 17, interest in engineering as a career had fallen to 8%. By age 18 to 25 only 5% of girls were interested.

Confidence in STEM

Girls’ confidence fell in all STEM subjects as they got older.

This table shows girls’ confidence in STEM subjects at different ages:


12–13 years

14–17 years

18–21 years

22–25 years





















Importance of STEM knowledge for jobs

Girls considered technology and mathematics to be essential life skills. This was consistent with the survey results from 2019–2020.

  • Technology was the most important subject for girls. 83% of girls thought it was important, compared with 85% of boys.
  • Despite an increase in positive responses since the last survey, engineering remained the least important subject for girls. Just 56% of girls thought it was important, compared with 69% of boys.

Intention to study STEM in the future

Consistent with the 2019–2020 survey, girls in Years 6 to 8 were less likely than boys to choose STEM elective subjects overall in future (79% compared to 59%).

In years 9 and 10, the likelihood of choosing specific STEM electives was skewed by gender. Girls were significantly more likely to choose biology and chemistry. Boys were significantly more likely to choose:

  • physics
  • design and technology
  • information and digital technology
  • industrial technology
  • engineering.

These differences have remained consistent over time.

Reasons for not studying STEM in the future

Compared to the 2019–2020 survey, fewer girls intended to choose STEM elective subjects in future. This applied across all education levels in 2021. In grades 9 and 10, only 42% of girls were studying STEM electives compared to 75% of boys.

Most girls said they wouldn’t study STEM in the future because they weren’t really interested in the subjects.

This opinion was stable across all age ranges. It was notably higher for girls than boys in the 18 to 25 age group:

  • 72% of primary and secondary school girls (ages 12 to 17) said they weren’t interested in STEM subjects. This compared to 70% of boys.
  • 70% of girls in the higher education age group (18 to 25) weren’t interested in STEM subjects compared to 53% of boys.

Aspirations for a STEM career in the future

Girls were half as likely as boys to aspire to a career in STEM. 21% of girls wanted a STEM career (down 3 percentage points from the last survey) compared to 42% of boys.

Girls from these diversity groups were most likely to aspire to a STEM career:

  • metropolitan locations: 23% of girls wanted a STEM career (compared to 44% of boys)
  • culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds: 24% of girls wanted a STEM career (compared to 43% of boys)
  • people not of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin: 21% of girls wanted a STEM career (compared to 42% of boys).

About the data

The 2021 Youth in STEM research was a survey of 3,154 young people aged between 12 and 25 years. It followed the 2019–20 Youth in STEM survey of 3,000 young people.

The survey asked questions to understand young peoples’ awareness and perception of STEM subjects and careers. Respondents came from all states and territories across Australia.

To ensure survey results represented the population, weighting corrected for under- or over-representation of sub-groups by gender, age, location, country of birth and socioeconomic status (SEIFA 1–5 low socioeconomic status, SEIFA 6–10 high socioeconomic status).

Our department commissioned YouthInsight to carry out this survey. In 2020–21, they surveyed parents, teachers and career advisers to complement the youth survey. They will conduct the next teachers and career advisers survey in 2022 and the next Youth in STEM survey in 2023.

Read the 2021 Youth in STEM survey report

Read the 2019–20 Youth in STEM survey report.

Read about our methodology.