Thursday, July 20, 2017

Among those with high maths scores, those who are also verbally gifted are less likely to pursue STEM careers

From Not Lack of Ability but More Choice: Individual and Gender Differences in Choice of Careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics by Ming-Te Wang, , Jacquelynne S. Eccles, and Sarah Kenny. Abstract:
The pattern of gender differences in math and verbal ability may result in females having a wider choice of careers, in both science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and non-STEM fields, compared with males. The current study tested whether individuals with high math and high verbal ability in 12th grade were more or less likely to choose STEM occupations than those with high math and moderate verbal ability. The 1,490 subjects participated in two waves of a national longitudinal study; one wave was when the subjects were in 12th grade, and the other was when they were 33 years old. Results revealed that mathematically capable individuals who also had high verbal skills were less likely to pursue STEM careers than were individuals who had high math skills but moderate verbal skills. One notable finding was that the group with high math and high verbal ability included more females than males.
I saw this theory proposed a number of years ago. It made sense to me then. Nice to see some objective measurements supporting the hypothesis.

There is an interesting parallelism that is noted but unremarked. Among those with high scores in mathematics, males outnumber females roughly 2:1. Among the much smaller group who have both high maths AND high verbal scores, females outnumber males roughly 2:1.

High mathematic capability is the prerequisite to a career in STEM. STEM fields are also the fields which have the greatest prestige and the highest remuneration. Logic, and economic theory, dictates that if you have high maths scores, you would enter STEM fields. The study reminds us that there are innumerable variables beyond logic and theory which determine outcomes.

Of those with high maths and moderate verbal scores, just under half, 49%, elected a STEM career, despite the clear benefits of doing so. Among those with both high maths and high verbal scores, only 34% pursue STEM careers.

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