Society for Research on Adolescence (SRA) Biennial Meeting
April 12-14, 2018
Presentation Title: “Gender-Related Values and STEM Trajectories: The Role of Altruism in STEM Career Choice" (poster)
Author: Chris Wegemer
Women remain underrepresented in many STEM fields, despite some progress in recent decades (National Science Foundation, 2011). Representation is uneven; women receive nearly 60% of undergraduate degrees in the biological sciences, but only about 20% in engineering, computer science, and physics (National Science Foundation, 2011).
Expectancy-value theory provides a framework for understanding the complexities of STEM career choices and trajectories (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002). Values and expectations of success determine achievement-related choices and behaviors, which are shaped by one’s identity (Eccles, 2009), as well as cultural norms and broader social contexts. Gender differences in STEM-related career choices have been associated with preference for people-oriented tasks (Su et al., 2009; Ceci & Williams, 2010; Diekman et al., 2010) and altruism (Eccles & Wang, 2015; Weisgram et al., 2010).
Building on previous work, the purpose of this study is to understand how gender-related values in adolescence influence STEM career trajectories by asking: (1) Does altruism predict STEM career choices? (2) Does gender predict STEM career choices? (3) Does altruism mediate the relationship between gender and STEM choices? Altruism is defined as “prosocial behaviors or attitudes of an individual that are beneficial to others but not necessarily beneficial to the individual” (Zaff, Malanchuk, & Eccles, 2008).
Data from the Maryland Adolescent Development in Context Study (MADICS) were analyzed for this investigation. MADICS is a longitudinal study of 1,482 adolescents and their families between 1991 and 2014. Six waves of data were used, tracking youth from 7th grade to age 26. Participation in STEM was examined across career aspirations, college majors, and employment. STEM outcomes were broken down into three categories: non-STEM, HBMS (Health, Biological, and Medical Sciences), and MPECS (Mathematical, Physical, Engineering, and Computer Sciences; see Eccles & Wang, 2015 for categorization of STEM outcomes). General altruistic values were measured using composite measures based on a series of open-ended questions (see Zaff, Malanchuk, & Eccles, 2008). Occupational altruism was measured using survey items about career preferences.
Logistic regressions and path analyses (both structural equation and OLS models) were used to test the associations between gender, altruistic values, and STEM outcomes. This study yielded four main conclusions. First, altruistic values predict towards HBMS fields and away from MPECS. Second, being female also predicts towards HBMS and away from MPECS. Third, altruism partially mediates the relationship between gender and STEM choices. Fourth, altruism only predicts STEM college majors; general altruism predicts majors less strongly than occupational altruism.