Report: Women Less Sure of Abilities

    Despite reports of ambitious intellectual interests, stronger study habits and a greater appreciation for reading and literature, females generally express a lack of confidence in their academic abilities in math and science fields when compared to their male counterparts, according to a new report that analyzed incoming college classes across the nation.

    This is the first year that gender was taken into account in the survey, which was done by Noel-Levitz, a consulting firm that provides “”universities with services to help schools reach their goals of enrollment, retention and student success.”” The report demonstrated that gender differences were quite discernible in many cases.

    “”Female students generally reported better study habits, a greater enjoyment of reading and a stronger desire to finish their degree than males did,”” Noel-Levitz Director of Marketing Pam Jennings said.

    For instance, 69 percent of women reported taking “”very careful notes during class”” and reviewing those notes before a test, whereas only 47 percent of men did the same.

    However, womens’ strong educational ambitions failed to mirror their confidence in academic ability.

    “”Males generally reported greater confidence in their math and science skills and preparations when compared to females, in spite of their lesser study habits and intellectual interests,”” Jennings said.

    As reported, 53 percent of males claimed to have a “”good grasp of scientific ideas,”” compared to only 42 percent of females, and 51 percent of females reported having “”a hard time understanding and solving complex math problems,”” compared to only 40 percent of males.

    The findings of the report were no surprise to UCSD sociology and critical gender studies professor Maria Charles.

    “”In recent years, there has been a trend toward significantly higher enrollment of females than males in higher education,”” Charles said. “”Even so, their confidence in math- and science-related subjects is not commensurate with their abilities.””

    According to Charles, the confidence gender gap in math and science can be attributed, in part, to popular views in the United States that such subjects align more closely with men’s intrinsic aptitudes and interests.

    “”There are strong cultural beliefs that females and males are naturally different and that women will find greater fulfillment in interpersonal career endeavors that allow them to express their nurturing side,”” Charles said. “”People feel that math and science will not give females the chance to do so.””

    Throughout varying stages of development, humans are aware of traditional gender stereotypes, and this could affect the career paths they choose to pursue, Charles said.

    Charles added that she believes that stereotyped gender norms affect not only confidence levels, but also females’ propensity to take certain courses and their performance in those courses.

    “”Social psychological research suggests that lowered confidence can result in self-fulfilling prophesies and decreased performance,”” she said. “”This may further drive qualified females away from math and science.””

    Noel-Levitz based its findings on data collected from surveys taken in the summer and fall of 2006 by 97,626 incoming college freshmen from 292 academic institutions throughout the nation.

    According to the report, it appears that, ultimately, women should have no logical reason to express such a lack of confidence when their enrollment, academic attitudes and success in higher education show that females are achieving and earning degrees at a higher rate than their male counterparts.

    “”Achievement is higher for females, but this is yet to be reflected in the confidence that they express,”” Charles said. “”Hopefully, women will increasingly overcome this, see that they do have the abilities to do well in math and science and realize their potential to succeed in these male-dominated, lucrative fields.””

    Readers can contact Marissa Blunschi at [email protected].

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