Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Why women shy away from careers in science and math


Girls steer away from careers in math, science and engineering because they view science as a solitary rather than a social occupation, according to a University of Michigan psychologist.

"Raising girls who are confident in their ability to succeed in science and math is our first job," said Jacquelynne Eccles, a senior research professor at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR) and the U-M Institute for Research on Women and Gender.

"But in order to increase the number of women in science, we also need to make young women more interested in these fields, and that means making them aware that science is a social endeavor that involves working with and helping people."

Eccles gave an invited address on how parents and teachers influence children’s academic and career choices April 9, 2005, in Atlanta at the biennial conference of the Society for Research in Child Development.

For the talk, she drew upon data from decades of research, funded by a variety of agencies and foundations, including the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Child Health and Development. One of the studies Eccles used for the analysis was the Michigan Study of Adolescent and Adult Life Transitions, a longitudinal study she started in 1983 that has followed approximately 1,200 predominately white, working-class young men and women from early adolescence into adulthood. The last interviews were conducted in 2002 when participants were 30 years old.

In 7th-grade, the occupational aspirations of girls had little to do with their abilities as indicated by their grades and the opinions of both their parents and their teachers, Eccles and colleagues found. The girls’ perception of the career potential of advanced or honors math and science classes in high school was a stronger predictor of their selection of such courses than was their actual ability in those subjects.

Eccles and colleagues have repeatedly found that parents provide many types of messages to daughters that undermine both their daughters’ confidence in their math and science abilities and their interest in pursuing careers in these fields.

Even though girls got better math grades than boys, parents of daughters reported that math was more difficult for their child than parents of sons. "Parents of daughters also said their girls had to work harder to do well in math than parents of sons, even though teachers told us this was not true," she said.

Girls said that they worked harder in math than in English, and parents reported that is true, too. But student time diaries told a different story, with boys and girls both reporting that they spent more time on language arts than on math.

"Parents also gave very different reasons for the math success of girls and boys," Eccles said. "Parents of boys rated talent and effort as equally important, while parents of girls said hard work was much more important than math talent."

Eccles urged teachers to tell parents that their daughters are talented in math and science, and to provide girls and their parents with vocational and intellectual reasons for studying math or science.

Eccles and colleagues also analyzed gender differences in college majors and occupations, finding that sex differences in general self-concepts and values at age 20 had a long-term influence on the college courses and jobs young men and women picked.

Young women were more likely than young men to place a high value on occupations that permitted flexibility and did not require them to be away from their family. The women also valued working with people. Even though young women had higher college GPAs than young men, young men were more likely to have a higher opinion of their abilities in math and science, and in their general intellectual abilities. They were also more likely to value jobs that required them to supervise other people.

"In addition to improving the confidence of girls, we need to show them that scientists work in teams, solving problems collaboratively. And that as a result of their work, scientists are in a unique position to help other people.

"We as a culture do a very bad job of telling our children what scientists do. Young people have an image of scientists as eccentric old men with wild hair, smoking cigars, deep in thought, alone. Basically, they think of Einstein. We need to change that image and give our children a much richer, nuanced view of who scientists are, what scientists do and how they work."

Diane Swanbrow | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Social Sciences:

nachricht New population data provide insight on aging, migration
31.08.2016 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

nachricht PRB projects world population rising 33 percent by 2050 to nearly 10 billion
25.08.2016 | Population Reference Bureau

All articles from Social Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

First results of NSTX-U research operations

26.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

UCI and NASA document accelerated glacier melting in West Antarctica

26.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>