Bridging the gender-gap in maths

May 15, 2012
There are significant gender differences among Australian youth in mathematics career.

(Phys.org) -- A concerning gender-gap exists in career aspirations among Australian youth across science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, a new study has found.

The study, published in Developmental Psychology last month, was the first to compare participation and related occupational planning for STEM careers among senior high-school boys and from different country contexts.

Led by Associate Professor Helen Watt from Monash University’s Faculty of Education, researchers cross-examined data from Australia, Canada and the US, finding significant gender differences only among Australian youth in mathematics-related , with fewer girls aspiring to maths-related careers than boys.

The gender-gap was attributed to the greater and earlier degrees of choice Australian adolescents have to specialise in their school studies, than in the North American curriculum.

Associate Professor Watt referred to the ‘leaky pipeline’ where students drop out of advanced mathematics along various points of their educational trajectory as concerning.

“The leaky STEM pipeline has become a major area of concern in terms of economic growth in Western countries, particularly if Australia is to compete on the international platform,” Associate Professor Watt said.

“These findings increase our understanding of when and why girls ‘leak’ from the pipeline in an effort to address the issue in schools.”

The findings challenge current conceptions that girls and women opt away from high-prestige mathematical occupations.

For girls who did aspire to mathematics-related careers, it was found their planned careers were of equal status to those planned by boys.

An important element of the study was examining whether the ‘leaky pipeline’ would have a ‘glass ceiling’. That is, whether girls aspiring to mathematical fields of career would not plan on high-prestige jobs.

“This was not the case and girls were found to plan equally prestigious careers as boys,” Associate Professor Watt said.

“The in STEM-related career aspirations should be addressed by nurturing secondary students’ interest and demonstrating how maths and science can be useful in the careers girls are most attracted to.

“The relatively early specialization in secondary school course selections also needs careful thought, timely as the new national curriculum is under consideration.”

Associate Professor Watt presented the findings as an invited address at the Biennial Gender Development Research Conference in San Francisco last month and has actively researched this field for the past 20 years, recently securing a prestigious ARC grant and five-year Fellowship.

Explore further: Worldwide study finds few gender differences in math abilities

Related Stories

Worldwide study finds few gender differences in math abilities

January 5, 2010

Girls around the world are not worse at math than boys, even though boys are more confident in their math abilities, and girls from countries where gender equity is more prevalent are more likely to perform better on mathematics ...

ONR encouraging women to pursue STEM careers

August 6, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- While an Aug. 3 government study shows women still lag behind men in high-tech educations and careers, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) has been working to narrow that gap within the Department of the Navy.

Email link to boys' popularity

October 14, 2011

Surveyed boys who used email at home were brighter and more popular than boys who did not – according to a recent study by an educational psychologist from Curtin University.

Science career 'not for me' say many 10 year olds

January 11, 2012

Children as young as ten already see a career in science as ‘not for me’. Despite the majority of children enjoying the subject at school and viewing scientists positively, fewer than 17 per cent are interested ...

Teachers think white females lag behind in math, study finds

April 5, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- High school math teachers tend to rate white female students’ math abilities lower than those of their white male peers, even when their grades and test scores are comparable, according to a University ...

Recommended for you

Fossil specimen reveals a new species of ancient river dolphin

September 1, 2015

The careful examination of fossil fragments from Panama has led Smithsonian scientists and colleagues to the discovery of a new genus and species of river dolphin that has been long extinct. The team named it Isthminia panamensis. ...

Early human diet explains our eating habits

August 31, 2015

Much attention is being given to what people ate in the distant past as a guide to what we should eat today. Advocates of the claimed palaeodiet recommend that we should avoid carbohydrates and load our plates with red meat ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.