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    Women 1.5 Times More Likely to Leave STEM Pipeline After Calculus Compared to Men: Lack of Mathematical Confidence a Potential Culprit

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        Abstract

        The substantial gender gap in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce can be traced back to the underrepresentation of women at various milestones in the career pathway. Calculus is a necessary step in this pathway and has been shown to often dissuade people from pursuing STEM fields. We examine the characteristics of students who begin college interested in STEM and either persist or switch out of the calculus sequence after taking Calculus I, and hence either continue to pursue a STEM major or are dissuaded from STEM disciplines. The data come from a unique, national survey focused on mainstream college calculus. Our analyses show that, while controlling for academic preparedness, career intentions, and instruction, the odds of a woman being dissuaded from continuing in calculus is 1.5 times greater than that for a man. Furthermore, women report they do not understand the course material well enough to continue significantly more often than men. When comparing women and men with above-average mathematical abilities and preparedness, we find women start and end the term with significantly lower mathematical confidence than men. This suggests a lack of mathematical confidence, rather than a lack of mathematically ability, may be responsible for the high departure rate of women. While it would be ideal to increase interest and participation of women in STEM at all stages of their careers, our findings indicate that simply increasing the retention of women starting in college calculus would almost double the number of women entering the STEM workforce.

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        Most cited references 21

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        Dropout from Higher Education: A Theoretical Synthesis of Recent Research

         V. Tinto (1975)
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          Women and science careers: leaky pipeline or gender filter?

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            Why do women opt out? Sense of belonging and women's representation in mathematics.

            Sense of belonging to math-one's feelings of membership and acceptance in the math domain-was established as a new and an important factor in the representation gap between males and females in math. First, a new scale of sense of belonging to math was created and validated, and was found to predict unique variance in college students' intent to pursue math in the future (Studies 1-2). Second, in a longitudinal study of calculus students (Study 3), students' perceptions of 2 factors in their math environment-the message that math ability is a fixed trait and the stereotype that women have less of this ability than men-worked together to erode women's, but not men's, sense of belonging in math. Their lowered sense of belonging, in turn, mediated women's desire to pursue math in the future and their math grades. Interestingly, the message that math ability could be acquired protected women from negative stereotypes, allowing them to maintain a high sense of belonging in math and the intention to pursue math in the future. (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved.
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              Journal
              1510.07541

              History & Philosophy

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