AUSTIN, Texas—Drs. Chandra Muller and Catherine Riegle-Crumb of the Department of Sociology at The University of Texas at Austin, have been awarded a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study “Gender Differences in Science and Math: Diversity and the Role of Social Context,” throughout 2005-08.
The study will address how schools structure opportunities for adolescent girls and boys—of different races, ethnicities, social classes and immigrant generational statuses—as they work toward preparation for careers in science and math. Specifically, it investigates the effects of social contexts in the school and its community such as how courses and friendships influence science and math course selection, performance in those courses, as well as the pursuit of science, technology, engineering, math and teaching majors in college.
“Adolescence is a crucial stage for preparation in science and math fields,” said Muller, principal investigator. “And it is the time point when many academic and social differences among females and males crystallize. The consequences of students’ decisions, preparation and performance during this period extend to produce gender disparities in work, health and human relationships over the entire life course.”
The study will examine the progression of gender differences in science and math within multiple social contexts, ranging from broad societal forces to close personal relationships, that define individuals’ lives, shape the choices they make and affect their academic performance. These sources of social influence are found in the ways institutions and formal organizations structure opportunity, such as the curriculum used in science and math classes and the courses offered by the school. Informal processes operate as well, such as the social messages conveyed through norms and stereotypes that may be present in many aspects of society, ranging from the media to adolescents’ friendship circles.
“This study provides a well-placed window into how a major social institution—the school—influences girls’ and boys’ course-taking, academic performance and career development in science, technology, engineering and math, which have consequences for gender equity in science and math fields in our future,” said Riegle-Crumb, co-principal investigator.
The potential impact of the study is broad because of its methodological rigor, its appeal to an interdisciplinary audience and the policy implications of the findings.
The study draws on a new large and nationally representative data set, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, and its education component, the Adolescent Health and Academic Achievement Study.