Photo/Illutration A female scientist at work in a university lab (Reina Kitamura)

Few women choose to study mathematics at university, in part because it is regarded as an intellectual pursuit for men, a study shows.

The number of people in Japanese society who have little regard for intellectual women is anything but small and they tend to regard mathematics and physics as masculine subjects, according to research by scholars at the University of Tokyo and other institutions.

They found that this view tends to affect women when they decide on an academic path.

An education ministry report on basic research on school for fiscal 2019 showed that women made up only 19 percent of college freshmen who majored in mathematics and 14 percent in physics.

In its online survey, the team contacted 1,177 people aged 20 to 69 in Japan and 1,082 people in Britain to ascertain what led people in general to perceive mathematics and physics as masculine.

The findings for Japan showed that people who do not embrace the notion that society is better off with more intellectual women tend to view mathematics and physics as masculine.

In Britain, people tended to associate those fields with a masculine image due to their repeated experiences of being told that women who major in these subjects will not become popular with the opposite sex.

Hiromi Yokoyama, a professor of science and technology policy at the University of Tokyo who led the team, said the findings show that fewer women study science due to social factors.

“It is problematic in the first place that some academic disciplines were viewed in a gender context,” she said. “But a deeper look suggests that women in science do not personally opt out of such studies but are discouraged from doing so because of the stereotypical image.”

She noted that Japanese girls do very well in mathematics, compared with their counterparts overseas.

“I am hoping that their parents and teachers will encourage them” to study science, Yokoyama said.

The team’s findings were carried by the online edition of SAGE Publishing (, the world's leading independent academic publisher.