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Young women and mathematics: An investigation of several influences impinging on a young woman's decision regarding whether to pursue further courses in mathematics

1 December 1993


As courses become optional in secondary school, there is a downward spiral in young women's enrollment, achievement, and interest in math and science. Consequently, women enter college at a disadvantage, because they do no possess the sufficient pre-requisites to enter most math, science, and technical programs of study. Therefore, we have great underrepresentation of women in math and science careers.

In this study, I observed two algebra classes and two geometry classes, in a three-year high school, to investigate what is going on with the young women in the high school mathematics class. I administered attitudinal surveys to one algebra class and one geometry class, measuring their attitudes toward math, opinions about teachers and counselors, and opinions about the curriculum. I especially focused on the gender differences among these attitudes.

In the algebra class, females underestimated their academic ability, in comparison with males. More females reported that they liked math, liked working with other people, liked the new textbook better than the old one, had had good experiences in previous math classes, and liked solving problems. More males reported that they attributed success on a test to ability, that their counselor had encouraged them to take math, that it was easy to learn from the new textbook, and that past experiences in math had influenced them to continue taking math.

In the geometry class, there were no gender differences in estimation of academic ability. More females reported that they would have rather had the teacher lecture than read the material themselves. More males reported that the liked working by themselves, that they were good at math, that they attributed success on a test to ability, that math was hard, and that past experience in math had influenced them to continue taking math.

In the two algebra classes and the two geometry classes, females consistently asked more questions during the designated question-and-answer time than did males.

These gender differences were analyzed and discussed. Those factors that promote higher enrollment and more positive attitudes towards math among young women were investigated. Suggestions were provided for improving the quality of education for young women in the mathematics classroom.


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