The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Gender Stereotypes in the Classroom and Girls' Motivation for Math

Friday, January 18, 2013: 2:30 PM
Marina 1 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Christina M. Branom, MA, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Background: Achievement motivation has critical implications for student outcomes, particularly academic choices and achievement. Unfortunately, relative to males, few female students demonstrate motivation in the math and science fields. In the drive to achieve greater educational equity, there has been increasing interest in closing the gender gap in math and science participation. Many studies have suggested that persistent negative stereotypes about females' abilities in these fields dampen girls' confidence and lead them to avoid math and science courses and careers, even when they are highly skilled in these subjects. While numerous factors influence student motivation, teachers are in a unique position to counter such stereotypes and encourage greater gender equality in the classroom. Nevertheless, some science and math classrooms continue to foster discriminatory climates, in which traditional gender stereotypes are communicated in subtle or explicit ways. This study examines the influence of math teachers on their students' motivational beliefs and attitudes. Specifically, it examines the association between students' perceptions of their math teachers' gender-stereotypic behavior and students' math self-efficacy (beliefs about their capacity to accomplish math-related tasks) and value for math.

Methods: This study analyzes data from a questionnaire distributed to a nationally representative sample of 21,444 9th graders participating in the National High School Longitudinal Study of 2009. The questionnaire tapped into students' experiences in their math and science courses and their achievement beliefs, attitudes, and intentions.

Results: As expected, males reported significantly higher levels of math self-efficacy than females (p<.001). Interestingly, females reported higher value for math (p<.01). Furthermore, perceptions that the teacher believes males are better than females in math were negatively associated with both math self-efficacy and value for math (p<.05). There was also a marginally significant modification by gender of the relationship between perceptions of the teacher and math self-efficacy (p=0.058). Students of both genders who reported that their teacher believes males are better at math than females had significantly lower levels of math self-efficacy, but this effect was slightly stronger among females.

Conclusion and Implications: Although girls reported valuing math more than boys, they demonstrated lower self-efficacy for the subject. Previous research suggests that course and career choice is determined by both self-efficacy and values, but that the degree to which girls value math relative to other subjects may be more predictive of motivation than absolute measures of math values. Therefore, girls may still be inhibited from pursuing math beyond high school because they lack confidence in their math abilities and value other subjects more than math. The findings also indicate that negative stereotypes held by teachers about girls' math abilities are associated with poor motivation outcomes for both male and female students. Given the detrimental impact of stereotypes on achievement motivation, school social workers should work with other school staff to fight gender discrimination in math and science and promote positive student-teacher relationships as a means to motivate girls to reach their academic potential. These results have implications for interventions that counter stereotypes in schools and enhance girls' future academic and career opportunities.