# Interest, skills and belief in own abilities steer youngsters towards STEM jobs

December 05, 2016The fact that many young women do not pursue a career in the 'STEM' fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics may have its roots in gender stereotypes. These not only magnify uncertainty and doubts in young women about their success, but also influence whether they are actually interested in mathematics or not, says Helen Watt of Monash University in Australia, who led a study in Springer's journal

*Sex Roles*. It sought to understand the role that interest and ability in mathematics play in motivating career choices among young people in Australia and the US.

The study used previous data from Janet Hyde's Wisconsin Study of Families and Work, which included information from 298 American adolescents, and Watt's Study of Transitions and Education Pathways (STEPS), which included 331 Australian students.

Some of the findings are similar to those from the previous studies. For example, males aspire to careers that require more knowledge of physics, while females prefer ones involving biology. No gender differences were found when it came to chemistry-related choices. In the Australian sample, the preferred career choices of men required more mathematical knowledge than those of females.

Even though young women prefer biology careers, they do not have less aptitude in physics or mathematics if school grades and standardised tests are anything to go by. Young Australian men however hold their own mathematical abilities in higher regard and also show more interest in the field. According to Wilson, this could suggest that young men's belief in their own brain power may be inflated.

A young woman's actual or perceived mathematical abilities played a greater role in her decisions to follow a mathematics-related career path. In the American sample, for instance, the chances were good that a 10th grade girl who did well in the standardised mathematics test set would be contemplating a career involving physics by the 12th grade. In Australia, a young woman's self-belief about her maths skills influenced whether she would consider working in all of the major science fields.

"Girls need to know that they are scoring as well as their male counterparts on these objective measures and that they can be successful in mathematics-intensive careers," says Wilson.

The perceptions of parents in Australia had a significant impact on their children's future, and many youngsters took careful note of these before making career choices. Mothers tended to hold their sons' mathematical ability in higher regard. Their thoughts about their daughters' maths ability were much more tied to actual maths achievements, such as test scores. These findings point to a gender bias in mothers' judgments about sons versus daughters, or might reflect differences in the self-concept that male and female adolescents hold of themselves. These therefore highlight the impact that parents can have in encouraging or discouraging their children's STEM career aspirations.

-end-

Reference: Watt, H.M.G. et al. (2016). Mathematics - A Critical Filter for STEM-related Career Choices? A longitudinal examination among Australian and U.S. adolescents, *Sex Roles*. DOI 10.1007/s11199-016-0711-1

Springer

**Related Mathematics Articles:**

A new method for boosting the learning of mathematics

How can mathematics learning in primary school be facilitated? UNIGE has developed an intervention to promote the learning of math in school.

How can mathematics learning in primary school be facilitated? UNIGE has developed an intervention to promote the learning of math in school.

Could mathematics help to better treat cancer?

Impaired information processing may prevent cells from perceiving their environment correctly; they then start acting in an uncontrolled way and this can lead to the development of cancer.

Impaired information processing may prevent cells from perceiving their environment correctly; they then start acting in an uncontrolled way and this can lead to the development of cancer.

People can see beauty in complex mathematics, study shows

Ordinary people see beauty in complex mathematical arguments in the same way they can appreciate a beautiful landscape painting or a piano sonata.

Ordinary people see beauty in complex mathematical arguments in the same way they can appreciate a beautiful landscape painting or a piano sonata.

Improving geothermal HVAC systems with mathematics

Sustainable heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, such as those that harness low-enthalpy geothermal energy, are needed to reduce collective energy use and mitigate the continued effects of a warming climate.

Sustainable heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, such as those that harness low-enthalpy geothermal energy, are needed to reduce collective energy use and mitigate the continued effects of a warming climate.

How the power of mathematics can help assess lung function

Researchers at the University of Southampton have developed a new computational way of analyzing X-ray images of lungs, which could herald a breakthrough in the diagnosis and assessment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other lung diseases.

Researchers at the University of Southampton have developed a new computational way of analyzing X-ray images of lungs, which could herald a breakthrough in the diagnosis and assessment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other lung diseases.

Mathematics pushes innovation in 4-D printing

New mathematical results will provide a potential breakthrough in the design and the fabrication of the next generation of morphable materials.

New mathematical results will provide a potential breakthrough in the design and the fabrication of the next generation of morphable materials.

More democracy through mathematics

For democratic elections to be fair, voting districts must have similar sizes.

For democratic elections to be fair, voting districts must have similar sizes.

How to color a lizard: From biology to mathematics

Skin color patterns in animals arise from microscopic interactions among colored cells that obey equations discovered by Alan Turing.

Skin color patterns in animals arise from microscopic interactions among colored cells that obey equations discovered by Alan Turing.

US educators awarded for exemplary teaching in mathematics

Janet Heine Barnett, Caren Diefenderfer, and Tevian Dray were named the 2017 Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award winners by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) for their teaching effectiveness and influence beyond their institutions.

Janet Heine Barnett, Caren Diefenderfer, and Tevian Dray were named the 2017 Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award winners by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) for their teaching effectiveness and influence beyond their institutions.

Authors of year's best books in mathematics honored

Prizes for the year's best books in mathematics were awarded to Ian Stewart and Tim Chartier by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) on Jan.

Prizes for the year's best books in mathematics were awarded to Ian Stewart and Tim Chartier by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) on Jan.

## Trending Science News

**Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News**

## Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the**top science podcasts of 2020**.

**Now Playing: TED Radio Hour**

**Listen Again: Reinvention**

Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselvesthis hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.

**Now Playing: Science for the People**

**#562 Superbug to Bedside**

By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.

**Now Playing: Radiolab**

**Dispatch 6: Strange Times**

Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.