Calculus May Be A Major Factor Diverting Women From Studying in STEM Disciplines

JessEllisA new report led by Jessica F. Ellis, an assistant professor of mathematics education at Colorado State University, supplies an explanation for why women tend to leave STEM disciplines in higher education at a higher rate than men. The culprit may be an aversion to advanced calculus.

The authors conducted a large-scale and in-depth national survey of calculus students conducted under the auspices of the Mathematical Association of America. They found 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.”

The authors conclude that their results suggest that “a lack of mathematical confidence, rather than a lack of mathematically ability, may be responsible for the high departure rate of women” from STEM fields.

Dr. Ellis joined the faculty at Colorado State in 2014. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in pure mathematics from California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo. Dr. Ellis holds a Ph.D. in mathematics and science education in the joint doctoral program of the University of California, San Diego and San Diego State University.

The study, “Women 1.5 Times More Likely to Leave STEM Pipeline After Calculus Compared to Men: Lack of Mathematical Confidence a Potential Culprit,” was published on the PLOS One website. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Gender GapResearch/StudySTEM Fields


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