The old caricature of boys studying science and girls doing arts may be more accurate than thought with research showing half of 12-year-old girls in Scotland believe science and mathematics are too difficult.

It was one of the findings in a wider survey of more than 4,000 girls, young women, parents and teachers across the UK, which shows a clear perception that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects and careers are better suited to male personalities, hobbies and brains.

Of the 500 respondents surveyed in north of the Border, 51 per cent of the teachers and 43 per cent of the parents believe this helps explain the low uptake of STEM subjects by girls.

Nearly half (47 per cent) of the young girls surveyed in Scotland said they believe such subjects are a better match for boys.

The research by global management consultants Accenture, also suggests that parents and teachers must do more to encourage girls in the early stages of development to embrace STEM subjects if government and business initiatives to increase the number of women in associated careers are to succeed.

Although girls ranked parents and teachers as their biggest influencers when making a decision about subject choice, more than half (51 per cent) of parents said they felt ill-informed on the benefits of STEM subjects specifically, and only one in seven (14 per cent) said they understood the different career opportunities that exist for their daughters.

Lucy Murdoch, Managing Director, Sales & Customer Service, Accenture Scotland said: “From a Scottish perspective this means we are only pooling talent from 50 per cent of our school age children.

"With Scotland driving ahead in STEM areas such as Fintech (Financial technology), innovation and start-ups, the oil industry and renewable energy, just to name a few, we need to ensure that Scottish business does not miss out on the breadth of talent coming through the education system.”

But a Scottish Government spokesman said:

“While this study only looks at a small group, it highlights the hugely important role that parents and teachers have to play in ensuring neither girls nor boys are put off STEM subjects before they have had a chance to fully enjoy them and appreciate all they have to offer."

He said the benefits of the various measures taken to encourage greater gender balance in science, were beginning to be seen.

He added: “Part of the challenge is changing attitudes, using our science centres and festivals to reach much wider audiences and celebrating role models of both genders in all fields. This is one of the areas we are seeing particular progress. Only this week the Education Secretary met with women working in science engagement to discuss how we can progress further in delivering a more equal science sector.”

Meanwhile universities were being urged by Education Secretary Angela Constance yesterday to join the push to get more women into all of levels of science.

She said: “Scotland is a world leader in science and technology and our continued investment in support for STEM teaching, learning and skills development at school, college, university and beyond is paying off with increased Higher entrants and passes in these subjects. But we need to do more to counter the historic gender imbalance."