Comparing gendered motivational processes affecting maths (and non-maths) education and career plans across 3 country samples


We explored gendered relationships among mathematical motivations, maths participation and educational career plans. Key objectives were i) contrast the roles of expectancies and values for girls/boys in contexts providing varying degrees of choice; ii) test evidence for the pipeline metaphor, wherein mathematical preparation has flow-on effects to educational/occupational outcomes; and iii) examine possible non-mathematical outcomes (aspired level of education, job prestige).  

Participants were from Australia, Canada, and the USA (Ns=358/471/418) in grade 9/10 at T1, grade 11/12 at T2. All came from suburban middle socioeconomic backgrounds, primarily Anglo-European. Maths motivations were measured at T1 tapping expectancies, intrinsic, and importance values. High school math participation was measured at T2: by chosen difficulty level in the Australian sample, number of advanced courses in Canadian, and total courses in USA, reflecting different curricular structures. Educational aspirations were coded on 4-point scales. Aspired careers were coded from 1(no) to 4(high) math-relatedness, and 1(lowest) to 5(highest) prestige based on wages and education. Multiple-group mean and covariance structures is an extension of structural equation modelling, where mean-level information is analysed as well as the covariance matrix. Strong factorial invariance implies constructs are comparable; only in this case is it justified to compare gender differences, and interpret gendered relationships, which could otherwise be due to differences in measurement models. 

In the Australian sample, which provided for a high degree of early specialisation, boys had higher intrinsic value, enrolled in more advanced maths, and aspired to more maths-related careers. Intrinsic and importance values predicted both maths and non-maths outcomes, with more significant paths for girls. In Canadian and USA samples, which require college-bound youth to take specific numbers of maths courses, there were no significant gender differences in outcomes; boys had higher expectancies, perhaps related to a cultural emphasis on test regimes that focus attention on ability rather than interest. Intrinsic value did not predict to outcomes, but expectancies and importance value did, more for girls than boys. The pipeline metaphor was generally supported. 

Findings lead us to conclude that contexts which promote early choice and specialisation may amplify gender differences. Perhaps choice structured by topics as North America, may enhance girls' interest. The test culture in North America may risk girls' lower ability beliefs, however. The greater role of values in girls' choices resonates with socialisation practices towards girls being happy, and boys successful. Mathematical motivations not only predicted maths-related outcomes, but also level of aspired education and career prestige.