Adolescent Girls’ Experiences and Gender-Related Beliefs in Relation to Their Motivation in Math/Science and English
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.
KeywordsAcademic 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.
- Andre, T., Whigham, M., Hendrickson, A., & Chambers, S. (1999). Competency beliefs, positive affect, and gender stereotypes of elementary students and their parents about science versus other school subjects. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 36, 719–747. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1098-2736(199908)36:6<719:AID-TEA8>3.0.CO;2-R.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman.Google Scholar
- Barber, B. L., Stone, M. R., Hunt, J. E., & Eccles, J. S. (2005). Benefits of activity participation: The roles of identity affirmation and peer group norm sharing. In J. L. Mahoney, R. W. Larson, & J. S. Eccles (Eds.), Organized activities as contexts of development: Extracurricular activities, after-school and community programs (pp. 185–210). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
- Bell, L. A. (1989). Something’s wrong here and it’s not me: Challenging the dilemmas that block girls’ success. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 12, 118–130.Google Scholar
- Bigler, R. S. (2006, April). Viva la difference or vanquish la difference? In Presentation at the second biennial gender development research conference, San Francisco.Google Scholar
- Chen, X., Ender, P. B., Mitchell, M., & Wells, C. (2003). Regression with STATA. Retrieved from: http://www.ats.ucla.edu/stat/stata/webbooks/reg.
- Coleman, J., & Hendry, L. B. (1999). The Nature of adolescence. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Harter, S. (2003). The development of self-representations during childhood and adolescence. In M. R. Leary & J. P. Tangney (Eds.), Handbook of self and identity (pp. 610–642). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
- Hill, N. E., Castellino, D. R., Lansford, J. E., Nowlin, P., Dodge, K. A., Bates, J. E., et al. (2004). Parent academic involvement as related to school behavior, achievement, and aspirations: Demographic variations across adolescence. Child Development, 75, 1491–1509. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2004.00753.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Leaper, C. (2002). Parenting girls and boys. In M. H. Bornstein (Ed.), Handbook of parenting: Vol. 1: Children and parenting (2nd ed., pp. 189–225). Mahwah, NJ, US: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
- Liben, L. S., & Bigler, R. S. (2002). The developmental course of gender differentiation: Conceptualizing, measuring, and evaluating constructs and pathways. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 63(2), vii-147. doi: 10.1111/1540-5834.t01-1-00187.
- National Science Foundation. (2008). Bachelor’s degrees, by sex and field: 1998–2007. Retrieved August 24, 2010 from http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/degrees.cfm#bachelor.
- PayScale. (2011). 2010–11 college salary report. Retrieved May 30, 2011 from http://www.payscale.com/best-colleges/degrees.asp.
- Robnett, R. D., & Leaper, C. (2011, April). Peer support, academic values, and adolescents’ interest in STEM careers. In R. S. Bigler (Chair), Finding meaningful work: Values, gender, and the pursuit of academic and occupational interests. Symposium conducted at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Montreal, Quebec.Google Scholar
- Stangor, C., & Sechrist, G. B. (1998). Conceptualizing the determinants of academic choice and task performance across social groups. In J. K. Swin & J. Stangor (Eds.), Prejudice: The target’s perspective (pp. 105–124). San Diego: Academic Press.Google Scholar
- Wigfield, A., Eccles, J. S., MacIver, D., Reuman, D. A., & Midgley, C. (1991). Transitions during early adolescence: Changes in children’s domain-specific self-perceptions and general self-esteem across the transition to junior high school. Developmental Psychology, 27, 552–565. doi: 10.1037/0012-16220.127.116.112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Zakaria, F. (2008). The post-American world. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.Google Scholar