A gender study of students with high mathematics ability: Personological, educational, and parental variables related to the intent to pursue quantitative fields of study

Date of Completion

January 1997


Education, Mathematics|Women's Studies|Education, Educational Psychology




It is well documented that more males than females enter and pursue mathematically related career fields. Research has generally examined gender issues concerning mathematics majors and related career goals as an integral part of majors and careers in the sciences. However, an examination of the distribution of women in these fields presents a picture of uneven advancement. Women are clustered in the life sciences with far fewer in physical sciences, mathematics, engineering, and computer science. Using data from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88), this study examined personological and educational characteristics of females and males identified as having high ability in mathematics. These data consist of a sample of 24,599 students from 1,052 schools throughout the nation who completed surveys in eighth, tenth, and twelfth grades. Gender similarities and differences were explored using descriptive and inferential statistics.^ Findings from this study revealed no gender differences with respect to performance or participation in mathematics courses. Males scored significantly higher on the verbal section of the SAT test, while no gender differences were found on the mathematics section. Also, males rated usefulness of mathematics significantly higher than females. In addition, significant differences were found between parental levels of education and expectation. The more educated the parent, the greater the expectations were for the child's educational goals. Logistic regression analyses were performed to predict the gender of students who intend to pursue a quantitative field. The odds ratios indicated that SAT verbal scores and teacher emphasis on further study in mathematics were significant predictors for males, while credits in calculus and SAT mathematics scores were significant predictors for females. Analyses also revealed that high mathematics ability females who intend to pursue a quantitative field were more likely to consider mathematics as useful to their future and had more credits in calculus than high mathematics ability females who do not intend to pursue a quantitative field. ^