Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 41, Issue 3, pp 268–282 | Cite as

Adolescent Girls’ Experiences and Gender-Related Beliefs in Relation to Their Motivation in Math/Science and English

  • Campbell Leaper
  • Timea Farkas
  • Christia Spears Brown
Empirical Research


Although the gender gap has dramatically narrowed in recent decades, women remain underrepresented in many science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. This study examined social and personal factors in relation to adolescent girls’ motivation in STEM (math/science) versus non-STEM (English) subjects. An ethnically diverse sample of 579 girls ages 13–18 years (M = 15) in the U.S. completed questionnaires measuring their academic achievement, ability beliefs, values, and experiences. Social and personal factors were hypothesized to predict motivation (expectancy-value) differently in math/science (M/S) and English. Social factors included perceived M/S and English support from parents and peers. Personal factors included facets of gender identity (felt conformity pressure, gender typicality, gender-role contentedness), gender-related attitudes, and exposure to feminism. In addition, grades, age, parents’ education, and ethnicity were controlled. Girls’ M/S motivation was positively associated with mother M/S support, peer M/S support, gender-egalitarian beliefs, and exposure to feminism; it was negatively related to peer English support. Girls’ English motivation was positively associated with peer English support as well as felt pressure from parents; it was negatively related to peer M/S support and felt peer pressure. The findings suggest that social and personal factors may influence girls’ motivation in domain-specific ways.


Academic achievement motivation Gender identity Sex role attitudes Peer relations Mathematics education Science education 



The research was supported by grants to the first author from the University of California Santa Cruz Academic Senate and Social Sciences Division, and by a grant to the third author from the University of California Los Angeles Center for the Study of Women. The authors are grateful to the girls in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Santa Cruz for their participation. Also, the authors thank the following: Melanie Ayres and Carly Friedman for their helpful suggestions during survey construction; Agnieszka Spatzier for data coordination; and Bren Michelle Chasse and Nicole Nunez for data entry. Preliminary findings from this study were presented at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development in Montreal, April 2011.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Campbell Leaper
    • 1
  • Timea Farkas
    • 1
  • Christia Spears Brown
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of California, Santa CruzSanta CruzUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of KentuckyLexingtonUSA

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