Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Importance of Parents in Encouraging Daughters in Math and Science

I've been in more (mostly online) conversations than I care to mention in which parents - both moms and dads - claim that girls "just don't like science." I know that's BS. I like science, even when I was a young lass. Sure some girls don't care for math and science, just like some boys don't care for math and science. My gut feeling has always been that parents who strongly believe that girls don't have those interests actually end up discouraging their own daughters in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Now there's actual data to back that up.

Science Daily reports on a study that University of Michigan psychologist Pamela Davis-Kean reported at a recent conference on "Educating a STEM Workforce." The data comes from a longitudinal study of 800 children, and many of their parents, from 1987 to 2000. They found that parents do indeed act on assumed gender stereotypes:

They found that parents provided more math-supportive environments for their sons than for their daughters, including buying more math and science toys for the boys. They also spent more time on math and science activities with their sons than with their daughters.
Those stereotypes can have long term consequences on later math achievement and career choices. In particular, fathers' attitudes had a strong influence on their daughters.

They found that girls' interest in math decreases as their fathers' gender stereotypes increase, whereas boys' interest in math increases as their fathers' gender stereotypes increase.

"Fathers' gender stereotypes are very important in supporting—or in undermining—daughters' choices to pursue training in math and science," Davis-Kean said.

All you dads out there should keep this in mind.

At least some of this research has been published by Davis-Kean and co-authors Janis Jacobs, Martha Bleeker, Jacquelynne Eccles and Oksana Malachuk in Gender Differences in Mathematics: An Integrative Psychological Approach.

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