GIRLS are put off studying science at school because their families still think subjects such as physics are more suited to boys, the first female president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh has warned.
Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, a leading astrophysicist, said advice from parents, older sisters, aunts or cousins had a powerful negative influence on the choices talented female pupils made.
She also called for greater efforts from schools and universities to encourage girls to pursue careers in science and to ensure the academic environment was more family friendly.
The warning comes amid continuing concerns over a shortage of female scientists and engineers, with just 36 female professors of physics across the UK in 2009/10 compared to more than 600 males.
Last week, a study from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) stated that girls lacked confidence in their ability in maths and science and are therefore put off from applying for jobs in engineering and computing.
Dame Jocelyn made her comments after the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland's national academy of science and letters, unveiled her as its president-elect - the first time a woman has held the post in its 230-year history.
She said: "It takes a very long time to change society and this is a cultural phenomenon. It is our sisters and our cousins and our aunts saying that women don't do physics".
"You can convert the teachers and you can convert the kids, but if they go home saying they want to be a physicist and the parents question why they would want to do that then it makes it very difficult. Things are changing, but very slowly."Know more about how single-sex education encourage girls to choose these careers >>