Students' gendered perceptions of talent at high school according to academic domain, and their effect on career aspirations

Year: 1996

Author: Watt, Helen M. G.

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Boys and girls nominated the high school subject at which they perceived themselves as being most talented, and current perceptions of talent in relation to each of their high school subjects were measured, along with career aspirations. The study objectives were to ascertain whether boys and girls differ in terms of the subjects at which they feel most talented, their talent ratings for each subject domain, and their career aspirations. Participants were Year 11 students (N=240) from two coeducational Government schools in an upper-middle class metropolitan area of Sydney. Results show that 51% of boys perceive themselves as being most talented in the maths, science or technical domain, compared with only 14% of girls. Further, 51% of girls perceive themselves as being most talented in the arts or humanities domain, compared with only 20% of boys. Analysis of students' talent ratings for each subject they study reveal gender differences in the expected direction within the maths, technical, social science, humanities and language domains. Career aspirations are analysed in terms of mathematical relatedness, and show that boys more than girls plan to pursue strongly maths-related careers. Implications are that in general, it is boys rather than girls who perceive themselves as 'multi-talented' but choose to pursue strongly maths-related careers, while girls perceive themselves as less talented at maths and plan to pursue less maths-related careers than boys. More fine-grained analyses focusing only on students who perceive themselves as talented at maths reflect the general findings. Theoretical and educational implications are first derived from girls' limited participation in maths-related careers as related to their lower perceptions of mathematical talent; and second, boys' possibly restricted career paths, since they plan to pursue strongly maths-related careers despite feeling similarly talented to girls in the arts and humanities domains.