Nav: Home

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

December 05, 2016

The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More democracy through mathematics
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.
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.
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.
More Mathematics News and Mathematics Current Events

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: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Kittens Kick The Giggly Blue Robot All Summer
With the recent passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there's been a lot of debate about how much power the Supreme Court should really have. We think of the Supreme Court justices as all-powerful beings, issuing momentous rulings from on high. But they haven't always been so, you know, supreme. On this episode, we go all the way back to the case that, in a lot of ways, started it all.  Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.