[FoRK] Women With Both High Math and Verbal Ability Appear Less Likely to Choose Science Careers Because Their Dual Skills Confer More Career Options

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Mon Apr 8 13:52:45 PDT 2013


(hardly a surprise to anyone)

http://www.news.pitt.edu/women_STEM 

Women With Both High Math and Verbal Ability Appear Less Likely to Choose
Science Careers Because Their Dual Skills Confer More Career Options

Pitt-Michigan study finds that more women than men have combination of high
math and high verbal skills, recommends new focus on tapping potential of
women with that combination for careers in science, technology, engineering,
and mathematics (STEM)

Study also finds that women with high math skills and only moderate verbal
ability are the ones who appear more likely to choose STEM careers

PITTSBURGH—There has been ongoing public discussion about the need to educate
and recruit more young Americans for careers in science, technology,
engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Now a just-published study by the University of Pittsburgh and the University
of Michigan offers one potential solution to this perennial problem: more
concentrated efforts to encourage women who already possess the necessary
skills. 

It turns out that there is a pre-existing pool of women with both high math
and high verbal ability; it’s just that they seem to be more likely to choose
careers outside of science because their combination of skills provides them
with more career options, according to the Pitt study, published March 19 in
Psychological Science. 

Principal Investigator and Pitt Assistant Professor of Psychology in
Education Ming-Te Wang and collaborators at the University of Michigan found
that the mean SAT math score of a group of men and women with the combination
of high math and high verbal scores was 720, while the mean SAT verbal score
was 696, both out of a possible 800. This group of math and verbal high
achievers included a significantly higher proportion of women (63 percent)
than men (37 percent).

Additionally, the researchers found that women in the group of men and women
with high math scores and only moderate verbal scores were the ones more
likely to choose STEM careers. The mean math SAT score for this group was
721, while the mean verbal SAT score was 655. 

“Our study suggests that it’s not lack of ability or difference in ability
that orients females to pursue non-STEM careers but the fact that they can
consider a wider range of occupations because of their combination of
excellent math and verbal skills,” said Wang. “This highlights the need for
educators and policy makers to shift the focus away from trying to strengthen
girls’ STEM-related abilities and instead tap the potential of these girls
who are highly skilled in both the math and verbal domains to go into STEM
fields.”

Wang and his collaborators examined data on 1,490 college-bound U.S.
students, with the information drawn from the University of Michigan’s
Longitudinal Study of American Youth. The subjects in the Michigan
Longitudinal Study were surveyed by Michigan in two waves: once in the 12th
grade (1992) and again at age 33 (2007). The subjects completed telephone
interviews, which required them to update their educational and occupational
histories from high school through the time of the second-wave survey. Only
subjects who participated in both waves were included in Wang’s study; all
had received a four-year college degree by the time of the second-wave
survey. The participants were 49 percent female and 51 percent male.  

The survey evaluated such factors as participants’ SAT scores, family needs,
whether they liked working with people or things, their devotion to a career,
and, ultimately, the occupations they chose by age 33. 

The researchers found, from their analysis of the Michigan Longitudinal Study
data, that men and women who felt more successful in mathematics than in
verbal-related disciplines were more likely to work in STEM fields by the
time they had reached the age of 33. Mathematics, said Wang, played a role in
these individuals’ identities because they excelled within the discipline,
driving them to pursue STEM-related jobs. 

“We need to make sure girls and women—especially those with the combination
of high math and high verbal skills—are well informed regarding the full
diversity of options available in STEM careers,” said Wang. “We want them to
see the value in these disciplines so they won’t shy away from science- or
math-related careers because of lack of information, misinformation, or
stereotypes.”

Wang’s coauthors include the University of Michigan’s Jacquelynne Eccles and
Sarah Kenny. 

The paper is titled “Not Lack of Ability but More Choice: Individual and
Gender Differences in Choice of Careers in Science, Technology, Engineering,
and Mathematics.” 

A PDF of the study is available upon request. 

###

3/19/13/mab/cjhm


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