This article was downloaded by: [Buccheri, Grazia] On: 12 May 2011 Access details: Access Details: [subscription number 932236338] Publisher Routledge Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 3741 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK International Journal of Science Education Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~content=t713737283 The Impact of Gender on Interest in Science Topics and the Choice of Scientific and Technical Vocations Grazia Buccheria; Nadja Abt Gürbera; Christian Brühwilera a Institute of Research on Teaching Profession and on Development of Competencies, University of Teacher Education St.Gallen, St.Gallen, Switzerland Online publication date: 11 January 2011 To cite this Article Buccheri, Grazia , Gürber, Nadja Abt and Brühwiler, Christian(2011) 'The Impact of Gender on Interest in Science Topics and the Choice of Scientific and Technical Vocations', International Journal of Science Education, 33: 1, 159 — 178 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/09500693.2010.518643 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09500693.2010.518643 PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE Full terms and conditions of use: http://www.informaworld.com/terms-and-conditions-of-access.pdf This article may be used for research, teaching and private study purposes. 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International Journal of Science Education Vol. 33, No. 1, 1 January 2011, pp. 159–178 RESEARCH REPORT The Impact of Gender on Interest in Science Topics and the Choice of Scientific and Technical Vocations Grazia Buccheri*, Nadja Abt Gürber and Christian Brühwiler Downloaded By: [Buccheri, Grazia] At: 11:02 12 May 2011 Institute of Research on Teaching Profession and on Development of Competencies, University of Teacher Education St.Gallen, St.Gallen, Switzerland [email protected] 33 Ms. 000002010 GraziaBuccheri International 10.1080/09500693.2010.518643 TSED_A_518643.sgm 0950-0693 Original Taylor 2010 and & Article Francis (print)/1464-5289 Francis Journal of Science (online) Education Many countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) note a shortage of highly qualified scientific-technical personnel, whereas demand for such employees is growing. Therefore, how to motivate (female) high performers in science or mathematics to pursue scientific careers is of special interest. The sample for this study is taken from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2006. It comprises 7,819 high performers either in sciences or mathematics from representative countries of four different education systems which generally performed well or around the OECD average in PISA 2006: Switzerland, Finland, Australia, and Korea. The results give evidence that gender specificity and gender inequity in science education are a cross-national problem. Interests in specific science disciplines only partly support vocational choices in scientific-technical fields. Instead, gender and gender stereotypes play a significant role. Enhancing the utility of a scientific vocational choice is expected to soften the gender impact. Keywords: Scientific literacy; Science career; Interest in science; Large-scale studies; International comparisons Countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) note a shortage of highly qualified scientific and technical personnel (High Level Group on Increasing Human Resources for Science and Technology in Europe, 2004; OECD, 2008), whereas the demand for science and technology graduates is growing (OECD, 2008). Studies on overall trends in higher education *Corresponding author. Institute of Research on Teaching Profession and on Development of Competencies, University of Teacher Education St.Gallen, Seminarstrasse 27, St.Gallen 9400, Switzerland. Email: [email protected] ISSN 0950-0693 (print)/ISSN 1464-5289 (online)/11/010159–20 © 2011 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/09500693.2011.518643 Downloaded By: [Buccheri, Grazia] At: 11:02 12 May 2011 160 G. Buccheri et al. enrolments show that although absolute numbers of science and technology students have risen between 1985 and 2003 as access to higher levels of education expands in OECD economies, the relative share of science and technology students among the overall student population has been falling, with female students still lagging behind males (OECD, 2008). To counteract the deficit of young academics in scientific and technical fields, motivating students with high competencies in science or mathematics to pursue scientific careers is particularly important. Interest in science is not only seen as an important precondition for successful learning, it may also have a major influence on students’ choice of the vocational education or the field of study as well. Since it is often linked to enjoyment and personal value, interest in science is also fundamental for lifelong learning and continuing education in scientific subject areas (e.g. OECD, 2006; Prenzel, Schütte, & Walter, 2007). Todt, Drewes, and Heils (1994) distinguish between global interests and specific interests in their heuristic model of interest. Specific interests are compatible with, but not deducible from, general interests and are more characteristic of individuals than general interests. According to the model of development of general interests and for the first stages of specific interests, a progressive differentiation of interests can be observed from birth to about 15 years of age. The engagement with future careers starts at about the age of 10 years. At the age of 15 and beyond, awareness and exploration of new fields of societal and social life become relevant. Already at the age of three, boys and girls start choosing gender-adequate activities and interests. Gender-inadequate activities will in all probability be dropped. While Todt et al. (1994) focus on the object of interest, Krapp (1992, 2005) focuses on the person in his theoretical person–object relation. The German Person–Object Theory of Interest (Krapp, 1992, 2005) defines interest as a specific and unique relation between a person and an object which is relatively stable. The development of general interests depends increasingly on perceived competencies relating to self-concept (Todt et al., 1994). A weak self-concept impairs the development of interests (Gottfredson, 1981; Köller, Daniels, Schnabel, & Baumert, 2000). According to Möller and Köller (2004), students tend to compare their marks across the different subjects. As females usually have better marks in languages than in hard sciences, their self-concept in science is low compared to that of males even if they have the same competencies (Lips, 2004, as quoted in Murphy & Whitelegg, 2006, p. 7; Möller & Köller, 2004). This gender effect might be strengthened by the fact that, at least in Finland, hard sciences are marked more strictly than language arts (Hautamäki et al., 2000). Hannover and Kessels (2006) propose another explanation for female students’ low interest in hard sciences: The image of the hard sciences, especially physics, is male related and interferes with the development of female gender identity. A lower selfconcept leads not only to less academic interest in science (Gottfredson, 1981; Köller et al., 2000), but also to the avoidance of scientific vocations such as engineering or computer science. Findings of the international comparative survey on the Relevance of Science Education show that the perceptions of scientific and technical careers are gender stereotyped and limited (Schreiner & Sjøberg, 2005). Generally, females tend Downloaded By: [Buccheri, Grazia] At: 11:02 12 May 2011 Choice of Scientific and Technical Vocations 161 to choose science courses or subjects out of necessity, for instance because they want to become doctors, and less because they are interested in the subjects themselves (Miller, Slawinski Blessing, & Schwartz, 2006). In the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2006, students’ general interest in science subjects was measured. Students were also asked what their vocation might be at the age of 30 years. In most participating countries, no gender differences were found in general interest in science (OECD, 2007). However, when focusing on interests in specific science disciplines, gender differences can be expected (Hannover & Kessels, 2006; Krapp, 1992, 2005; Todt et al., 1994). Taskinen, Asseburg, and Walter (2008) analysed the expected careers in PISA 2006 more specifically by arranging them into four scientific-technical vocational fields. The findings show that the choice of scientific-technical vocational fields differs greatly between males and females. Females avoid vocational choices such as being engineers or technicians even if they possess the same competencies in science as their male counterparts. Although educational gender differentiation is a fact, there are still women who study physics, chemistry, or computer sciences, and men who study medicine (Gilbert & Calvert, 2003). Interest seems to facilitate choices even within genderatypical vocational fields. This raises the question of whether choices of different scientific-technical vocations involve different and specific interests and how this applies to different countries, cultures, and education systems. This study aims to investigate students’ interests in specific science disciplines and their relationship to the indicated vocational intentions across selected countries that participated in PISA 2006. The selection of the countries is based upon Fend’s country group typology (2003), which is both theory- and empirically driven (Baumert, Blum, & Neubrand, 2004; Fend, 1998, 2002, 2003; Helmke, 2009). Education systems are regarded as collective agents where individuals interact according to normative policies on different organisational levels in order to achieve desired effects. The four country groups1 are: (1) (North-)East Asian countries, (2) Nordic countries, (3) Anglo-Saxon countries, and (4) German-speaking countries. In the (North-)East Asian countries, education is generally characterised by an authoritative style, high student discipline and a focus on collective achievement (Fend, 2003; Helmke & Vo, 1999). Lessons are usually prepared in collaboration with other teachers. There is a strict external examination system; exams are administered throughout schools simultaneously to identify the best performers. The Nordic countries, like the (North-)East Asian countries, have comprehensive schools but differ notably in the pedagogical culture and examination system. Performance-based ranking and student selection only occurs late in students’ educational careers. The pedagogical culture focuses on fostering students’ learning and the teaching of vital basic competencies. Cooperation between schools and parents is crucial, and teachers consider themselves mainly as coaches for the optimal development of the individual child. Anglo-Saxon countries are characterised by an external monitoring system whereby tests are simultaneously administered throughout schools. They have intensive training programmes and support systems, especially in early childhood. Educational Downloaded By: [Buccheri, Grazia] At: 11:02 12 May 2011 162 G. Buccheri et al. resources are directed particularly towards the beginning of schooling: Group sizes in the early years are smaller, teachers receive special training to implement learning programmes, and parental involvement is fostered. The education systems of the German-speaking countries are characterised by their selective performance assessment, assigning students at a relatively early age to different streams of secondary schooling. External monitoring systems are applied or under examination. The curricula are aligned throughout the education system from primary school to university, and transitions are regulated either through entry exams or assigned marks. Resources such as staffing and infrastructure are allocated either at the federal or state level (Fend, 2003). In PISA 2006, the four country groups mentioned above generally performed well or around the OECD average in sciences.2 One representative of each country group was chosen. The selected countries were: (a) Finland, as the best-performing country in PISA 2006; (b) Korea, as a typical (North-)East Asian country; (c) Australia, as one possible representative of the Anglo-Saxon countries; and (d) Switzerland3 as one possible representative of the German-speaking countries. The presented theories and empirical results indicate an interest-, gender-, and vocation-specific approach. The following questions are investigated in this study: (1) Is there a gender difference among highly competent students with regard to their interests in specific science subjects in the selected countries? (2) Are there differences between the expected careers indicated by highly competent females and males, respectively, in the selected countries? (3) Is there a correlation between interest in a specific science subject and the choice of a vocational field? (4) For highly competent students in the selected countries, how do students’ gender and their stated interests in different science disciplines impact on their anticipated career at age 30? Method Participants PISA assigns students’ performance to different levels of competence. This study focuses on highly competent students achieving the two highest levels of performance either in science or mathematics (Levels 5 or 6; OECD, 2007). The sample comprises, in Korea, 619 females and 787 males, representing 155,577 total weighted; in Finland, 613 females and 724 males, representing 15,590 total weighted; in Australia, 1,084 females and 1,474 males, representing 43,524 total weighted; and in Switzerland, 1,087 females and 1,431 males, representing 19,773 total weighted. Instruments The students’ interests in science, their expectation about their vocational career at the age of 30 years, their economic, social, and cultural status (ESCS) and their Downloaded By: [Buccheri, Grazia] At: 11:02 12 May 2011 Choice of Scientific and Technical Vocations 163 self-concept in science4 have been assessed by the PISA 2006 student questionnaire. To differentiate general interest in science into interests in specific science subjects, three Likert-scaled items were chosen out of the eight which made up the index of general interest in science. These are namely: interest in physics, chemistry, and human biology (e.g. ‘How much interest do you have in learning about topics in physics?’). The answer options are ‘no interest’, ‘low interest’, ‘medium interest’, and ‘high interest’. The career expectations were assessed by an open question (‘What kind of job do you expect to have when you are about 30 years old?’). From the responses, a group of students who expect to pursue science-related careers was identified. Students’ responses were classified using the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO-88; see OECD, 2007, Annex A10). For this study, academic and non-academic science-related occupations are grouped into the following four vocational fields on the basis of Taskinen et al. (2008), but with a modified assignment to the different vocational fields:5 (1) vocations in engineering, architecture, physics, chemistry, and technology; (2) medical vocations; (3) vocations in computer sciences; and (4) other technical-scientific vocations (e.g. pilot or cinema projectionist). The ESCS index is derived from four variables related to family background: (1) the level of parental education; (2) parental occupation status; (3) home possessions; and (4) the number of books at home (OECD, 2009). ESCS was used as the control variable in research question (4). The index self-concept in science is made up of six Likertscaled items: (1) I can usually give good answers to test questions on school science topics; (2) when I am being taught school science, I can understand the concepts very well; (3) I can learn science topics quickly; (4) I can easily understand new ideas in school science; (5) learning advanced school science topics would be easy for me; and (6) school science topics are easy for me. The answer options are ‘strongly disagree’, ‘disagree’, ‘agree’, and ‘strongly agree’. In PISA, indices are constructed where the average OECD student is given an index value of 0. About two-thirds of the OECD student population were between the values –1 and 1. This corresponds to a standard deviation of 1 (OECD, 2007). Methods of Analysis To analyse gender differences according to the first two research questions, crosstable analyses (standardised residuals were considered, but not reported) and independent t-tests are used. In the third research question, point-biserial correlation tests are used to examine the relationship between interest in a specific science subject and the choice of a vocational field. The last research question analyses how students’ gender and their stated interests in different science disciplines impact on their anticipated career at age 30 by applying binary logistic regression. The reported odds ratios are the ratio of the probability of occurrence of an event to the probability of the event not occurring (e.g. of choosing a vocational field). The percentage of variance explained by the models is approximated with Nagelkerke’s R2. PISA is a two-stage sample. In order to estimate correct standard errors, WesVar v5.1.16 has been applied in addition to the software application PASW 17. 164 G. Buccheri et al. Results Downloaded By: [Buccheri, Grazia] At: 11:02 12 May 2011 Interests in Specific Science Subjects by Gender and Country The interests of high-performing female and male students in specific science subjects throughout the selected countries are summarised in Table 1 and Figure 1. The findings regarding the highly competent students in the four selected countries are characterised mainly by commonalities, but also unveil differences in interests in the science disciplines physics, chemistry, and human biology. Finland and Switzerland show gender-specific differences throughout the three science subjects, whereby females are particularly interested in human biology (in both countries, 82% declare high or medium interest). This preference for human biology is significantly higher than for chemistry (49% and 67% high or medium interest, respectively), while chemistry is significantly preferred to physics (47% and 54% high or medium interest, respectively). In contrast, males in both countries are equally interested in chemistry and physics and more interested in these than in biology. In Finland, 74% and 76% declare high or medium interest in chemistry and physics, respectively, whereas in Switzerland the corresponding figures are 77% and 79%. Human biology, on the other hand, arouses significantly less interest (59% and 54% high or medium interest, respectively) than chemistry or physics among males in both countries. Korea and Australia differ from Finland and Switzerland, as there are no significant gender differences concerning interest in chemistry. This difference comes because Australian females declare higher interest in chemistry than their female counterparts in the other countries, and because Korean males report comparatively lower interest in chemistry. On the other hand, there are similar gender-specific findings concerning the preferences of female students in science. Australian and Korean females significantly prefer human biology (84% and 78% high or medium interest, respectively) versus chemistry (70% and 63% high or medium interest, respectively), which in turn is significantly preferred to physics (56% and 40% high or medium interest, respectively). The interests of the Australian males differ from the interests of the Korean males. As in Switzerland and Finland, Australian males are almost equally interested in physics (76% high or medium interest) and chemistry (72% high or medium interest), and are significantly less interested in human biology (63% high or medium interest). In contrast, Korean males are most and equally interested in human biology (63% high or medium interest) and chemistry (64% high or medium interest), and are less interested in physics (54% high or medium interest). Expectation of a Vocational Career at the Age of 30 by Gender and Country The expected occupations indicated by the high performers in sciences or mathematics in PISA 2006 reflect not only a shortage of scientific and technical personnel with a majority of students choosing a non-scientific vocation, but also gender differentiation in educational careers (OECD, 2008). Sixty-four per cent of the Swiss, 2.56 (0.04) 2.43 (0.05) 2.62 (0.04) 2.30 (0.05) 3.10 (0.03) 3.10 (0.04) 3.11 (0.03) 2.60 (0.05) M (SE) M (SE) M (SE) 2.83 (0.03) 2.53 (0.05) 2.95 (0.03) 2.77 (0.05) −10.67*** −11.41*** −10.04*** −6.16*** Female t-value Difference 3.11 (0.04) 3.01 (0.03) 3.01 (0.03) 2.77 (0.04) M (SE) Male −6.52*** −8.84*** −1.33ns 0.14ns t-value Difference Interest in chemistry 3.23 (0.03) 3.12 (0.03) 3.32 (0.03) 3.13 (0.04) M (SE) Female 2.60 (0.04) 2.71 (0.03) 2.84 (0.03) 2.80 (0.03) M (SE) Male 12.75*** 10.67*** 11.94*** 8.18*** t-value Difference Interest in human biology *p < 0.05, **p < 0.01, ***p < 0.001. Note. M = mean; SE = standard error; CHE = Switzerland; FIN = Finland; AUS = Australia; KOR = Korea; assumption of an interval measurement scale; ns = not significant. CHE FIN AUS KOR Male Female Interest in physics Table 1. Means and differences in interests in physics, chemistry, and human biology by gender and country Downloaded By: [Buccheri, Grazia] At: 11:02 12 May 2011 Choice of Scientific and Technical Vocations 165 Downloaded By: [Buccheri, Grazia] At: 11:02 12 May 2011 166 G. Buccheri et al. Figure 1. Percentage interests in physics, chemistry, and human biology by gender and country 65% of the Korean, and 70% of the Finnish high performers expect to work in a non-scientific job at the age of 30. In Australia, comparatively few high performers (46%) choose a non-scientific career. The expected choice of vocational field in the four selected countries is partly marked by gender specificity (Table 2): At least 91% of the highly competent students indicating vocational choices within the field of computer sciences are male. Male students also report far above average expectations for the vocational fields of engineering, architecture, etc., with 79–82%. On the other hand, there is no clear pattern for the field of medicine: While in Switzerland and in Finland females dominate the medical field and men are clearly underrepresented, in Australia and especially in Korea, gender representation is balanced. The rather heterogeneous field which comprises ‘other’ scientific–technical occupations is dominated by females in Finland and Switzerland (66% and 59%), whereas in Korea and Australia it is dominated by males (both 59%). Choice of Scientific and Technical Vocations 167 Table 2. Percentage expected choice of vocational field by gender and country Engineering, etc. Female CHE FIN AUS KOR Male Medicine Female Computer sciences Male Female Male Other scientifictechnical occupations Female Male % % (SE) % % (SE) % % (SE) % % (SE) 20 21 21 18 80 79 79 82 (2.9) (3.7) (2.7) (3.7) 74 67 55 50 26 33 45 50 (2.9) (4.0) (3.5) (4.7) 4 3 5 9 96 97 95 91 (1.9) (2.8) (2.6) (6.0) 59 66 41 41 41 34 59 59 (7.0) (6.5) (4.9) (8.5) Downloaded By: [Buccheri, Grazia] At: 11:02 12 May 2011 Note. SE = standard error; CHE = Switzerland; FIN = Finland; AUS = Australia; KOR = Korea. Correlations between (Un)Specific Interests in Science and Expected Vocations Including Vocational Fields Based on the responses of the high performers who expect to pursue a scientifictechnical vocation at the age of 30, the relationship between general interest in science and (non)scientific vocations were measured, as well as between specific interests in science disciplines and four scientific-technical vocational fields. In Table 3 Switzerland has been selected to illustrate the differences in the correlations between interests and vocations depending on the specificity of the measurement, as the correlations in the various countries are comparable. The strongest correlations are found between human biology and medicine (r = 0.46), vocations in engineering etc. (r = −0.31) and in computer sciences (r = −0.31). In other words, high interest in human biology goes along with an expected vocational choice in medicine and with the non-selection of engineering, which for example implies interest in physics. A comparison of the correlations between general interest in science and (non)scientific vocations with the correlations between interests in specific science disciplines and specific scientifictechnical vocational fields shows that the strength of the relation may be underestimated, and its direction is likely to change if generalised parameters are used for measurement. This applies especially to the correlations between interest in human biology and the vocational fields of engineering, etc. (r = 0.08 to −0.31), computer sciences (r = −0.15 to −0.31) and medicine (r = 0.05 to 0.46). Impact of Gender and Specific Interests in Science on Choosing Medicine or Engineering, etc. Tables 4 and 5 show the impact of gender alone (Model I) and in combination with interests in specific science disciplines (Model II) on vocational fields like medicine— which is mainly preferred by females—and engineering, architecture, physics, chemistry, and technology, which are mainly preferred by males. In Model I the binary logistic regression gives evidence about the odds of one gender choosing a career in 168 G. Buccheri et al. Table 3. Correlations between (specific) interests and vocational fields Engineering, Technical or architecture, science-related physics, chemistry, Computer Other technicalvs. other technology sciences Medicine scientific vocations vocations General interest Interest in physicsa Interest in chemistrya Interest in human biologya 0.18*** 0.14*** 0.19*** 0.15*** −0.15*** 0.05* 0.06** −0.24*** ns ns −0.31*** 0.46*** 0.08*** 0.27*** 0.12*** −0.31*** −0.06*** −0.11*** −0.15*** 0.07*** *p < 0.05; **p < 0.01; ***p < 0.001. of an interval measurement scale; point-biserial correlations are applied. Note. ns = not significant; correlations > 0.20 are printed in bold. Downloaded By: [Buccheri, Grazia] At: 11:02 12 May 2011 aAssumption medicine, and in Model II about the odds of choosing medicine, taking into account, for example, high interest in physics versus no interest to medium interest in physics. Throughout the four countries, Models I and II show a significant gender effect for high performers in choosing medical vocations. The odds of males choosing medical vocations in Model I are 0.11–0.30 times lower than for females. In Model II the gender impact decreases after having accounted for specific interests, but is still significant (odds ratios = 0.21–0.40). Interests in specific science disciplines have different impacts on the choice of a medical career in the four countries. Generally, no interest to medium interest in human biology leads to small odds of choosing a medical vocation (odds ratios = 0.16–0.30), whereas in Switzerland and in Australia low interest in physics is a crucial factor for choosing a medical career: No interest to medium interest in physics heightens the odds of choosing such a vocation (odds ratios = 2.13–2.55). On the other hand, interest in physics is not relevant in Finland Table 4. Career choice within the medical field by country Model I Predictors B (SE) CHE Intercept 0.64 (0.19)** Gender: female −2.24 (0.23)*** Interest in human biology No to medium interest; high interest — Interest in chemistry No to medium interest; high interest — Interest in physics No to medium interest; high interest — ESCS — R2 Model II Odds ratio B (SE) Odds ratio 0.11 0.83 (0.31)** −1.53 (0.24)*** 0.21 −1.82 (0.30)*** 0.16 −0.21 (0.26)ns — 0.75 (0.30)* 0.13 (0.17)ns 2.13 — 0.445 0.306 Choice of Scientific and Technical Vocations 169 Table 4. (Continued) Model I Downloaded By: [Buccheri, Grazia] At: 11:02 12 May 2011 Predictors B (SE) FIN Intercept 0.57 (0.18)** Gender: female −1.43 (0.23)*** Interest in human biology No to medium interest; high interest — Interest in chemistry No to medium interest; high interest — Interest in physics No to medium interest; high interest — ESCS — R2 AUS Intercept 0.88 (0.12)*** Gender: female −1.37 (0.16)*** Interest in human biology No to medium interest; high interest — Interest in chemistry No to medium interest; high interest — Interest in physics No to medium interest; high interest — ESCS — R2 KOR Intercept 0.97 (0.16)*** Gender: female −1.22 (0.21)*** Interest in human biology No to medium interest; high interest — Interest in chemistry No to medium interest; high interest — Interest in physics No to medium interest; high interest — ESCS — R2 Model II Odds ratio B (SE) Odds ratio 0.24 0.93 (0.29)** −1.23 (0.28)*** 0.29 −1.08 (0.25)*** 0.34 −0.20 (0.35)ns — 0.07 (0.32)ns 0.41 (0.15)** — 1.51 0.240 0.150 0.25 1.45 (0.19)*** −0.91 (0.16)*** 0.40 −1.73 (0.14)*** 0.18 −0.84 (0.20)*** 0.43 0.94 (0.17)*** 0.02 (0.11)ns 2.55 — 0.357 0.133 0.30 0.103 1.31 (0.28)*** −1.01 (0.18)*** 0.37 −1.21 (0.25)*** 0.30 −0.03 (0.22)ns — 0.29 (0.32)ns 0.09 (0.13)ns — — 0.194 *p < 0.05; **p < 0.01; ***p < 0.001. Note. CHE = Switzerland; FIN = Finland; AUS = Australia; KOR = Korea; reference categories are printed in italics; ns = not significant; odds ratios > 1 heighten, odds ratios < 1 diminish the odds of a choice within the medical field. 170 G. Buccheri et al. Table 5. Career choice within the vocational field ‘engineering, etc.’ by country Model I Downloaded By: [Buccheri, Grazia] At: 11:02 12 May 2011 Predictors B (SE) CHE Intercept −1.45 (0.20)*** Gender; female 1.72 (0.24)*** Interest in human biology No to medium interest; high interest — Interest in chemistry No to medium interest; high interest — Interest in physics No to medium interest; high interest — ESCS — 2 R FIN Intercept −2.06 (0.26)*** Gender; female 1.66 (0.24)*** Interest in human biology No to medium interest; high interest — Interest in chemistry No to medium interest; high interest — Interest in physics No to medium interest; high interest — ESCS — R2 AUS Intercept −1.71 (0.13)*** Gender; female 1.19 (0.16)*** Interest in human biology No to medium interest; high interest — Interest in chemistry No to medium interest; high interest — Interest in physics No to medium interest; high interest — ESCS — R2 KOR Intercept −1.79 (0.18)*** Gender; female 1.35 (0.23)*** Interest in human biology No to medium interest; high interest — Model II Odds ratio B (SE) Odds ratio 5.57 −1.09 (0.30)*** 1.07 (0.24)*** 2.92 1.22 (0.30)*** 3.39 −0.32 (0.18)ns — −0.71 (0.24)** −0.26 (0.14)ns 0.49 — 0.286 0.189 5.27 −2.03 (0.36)*** 1.34 (0.27)*** 3.81 1.00 (0.33)** 2.71 −0.42 (0.38)ns — −0.16 (0.34)ns −0.23 (0.16)ns — — 0.206 0.157 3.29 −1.85 (0.19)*** 0.57 (0.16)** 1.77 1.52 (0.16)*** 4.58 −0.08 (0.15)ns −1.05(0.17)*** −0.09 (0.09)ns 0.083 3.85 — 0.35 — 0.250 −1.82 (0.31)*** 1.13 (0.23)*** 3.11 0.98 (0.28)** 2.67 Choice of Scientific and Technical Vocations 171 Table 5. (Continued) Model I Predictors Interest in chemistry No to medium interest; high interest Interest in physics No to medium interest; high interest ESCS R2 B (SE) Model II Odds ratio B (SE) Odds ratio — −0.29 (0.26)ns — — — −0.39 (0.31)ns −0.02 (0.15)ns — — 0.160 0.101 Downloaded By: [Buccheri, Grazia] At: 11:02 12 May 2011 *p < 0.05; **p < 0.01; ***p < 0.001. Note. CHE = Switzerland; FIN = Finland; AUS = Australia; KOR = Korea; reference categories are printed in italics; ns = not significant; odds ratios > 1 heighten, odds ratios < 1 diminish the odds of a choice within the vocational field “engineering, etc.” or Korea with regard to the choice of medical vocations. No interest to medium interest in chemistry (odds ratio = 0.43), in Australia only, leads to a small probability of choosing a medical vocation. The ESCS of the students is only relevant in Finland. An increase in the ESCS by about one point, which corresponds to one standard deviation, increases the odds of choosing a medical career by 1.51. Throughout the four countries, modelling the vocational field engineering, etc., shows, as in the model for choosing medical careers, a significant gender effect for the high performers in choosing vocations like engineer, architect, physicist, chemist, etc. (Table 5): in Model I, the odds of males choosing such a career are between 3.29 (Australia) and 5.57 (Switzerland) times higher than those of females. The gender impact decreases when specific interests are taken into account (Model II), but it still remains significant (odds ratios = 1.77–3.81). Again, the roles of interests in specific science disciplines in choosing such a career differ in the four countries: Generally, no interest to medium interest in human biology heightens the odds of choosing a vocation in engineering, etc. (odds ratios = 2.67–4.58). Unexpectedly, interests in physics or in chemistry are apparently not essential for choosing such a career: Only in Australia and in Switzerland does no interest to medium interest in physics diminish the odds of choosing a career in engineering, etc. (odds ratio = 0.35 and 0.49). Summary and Conclusions Todt’s model (1994) of the gender-specific development of general and specific interests can mostly be applied to the findings in the present research. Although interests in specific science subjects and vocational expectations at the age of 30 are generally affected by gender, differences between countries were found. The interests of highly competent Swiss and Finnish students in physics, chemistry, and human biology and their vocational expectations are marked by a complementary Downloaded By: [Buccheri, Grazia] At: 11:02 12 May 2011 172 G. Buccheri et al. gender specificity: Females are especially interested in human biology and are correspondingly overrepresented in medicine, whereas interests in chemistry and physics are significantly less pronounced. This leads to an underrepresentation in vocational fields such as engineering, architecture, physics, chemistry, and technology or computer sciences. In contrast, males report being equally interested in chemistry and physics, but significantly less interested in human biology. As a consequence, males are underrepresented in medicine and overrepresented in vocations such as engineering, architecture, physics, chemistry, technology, and computer sciences. Compared to Switzerland and Finland, Korea and Australia differ partly in interests and vocational expectations. There are no significant gender-specific differences concerning interest in chemistry. This is due to the fact that Australian females declare comparatively higher interest in chemistry than their female counterparts in the other selected countries and that Korean males declare comparatively less interest in chemistry. On the other hand, there are similar gender-specific findings concerning the preferences of female students in science. As in Switzerland or Finland, Australian males are equally interested in physics and chemistry and are significantly less interested in human biology. Korean males, by contrast, are equally interested in human biology and chemistry. Their interest in physics is low in comparison with male students in the other three countries. With regard to vocational expectations, Australian and Korean males are clearly overrepresented in the fields of engineering and computer sciences, whereas gender, especially in Korea, is nearly perfectly balanced in the medical field. The specificity of the relation between interest and job expectations described above supports Krapp’s (1992, 2005) Person–Object Theory of Interest and explains why general measurement of interest or vocational expectations at the age of 30 did not unveil gender gaps in PISA 2006 (OECD, 2007). It thus illustrates the fundamental importance of specific measurement. The findings of Möller and Köller (2004) could be replicated as well: Throughout the four countries investigated, female high performers have a significantly lower self-concept in sciences than their male colleagues (see Note 4 below). Among all the representatives of the four different education systems, interests only partly compensate the gender impact on vocational choices—even if only high performers in sciences or mathematics are considered. Gender seems to be a crucial determinant of vocational choices: Women choose medical careers by preference; men, in turn, choose mostly vocational fields like engineering, etc., or computer sciences. This paper gives evidence that gender equity in science education and working life is a cross-national problem. The fact that interests can only partly compensate the gender impact on vocational choices can be corroborated by the model of achievement-related choices developed by Eccles, Barber, Updegraff, and O’Brien (1998) and the empirical findings related to it. This model links educational, vocational, and other activity choices directly to two sets of beliefs: the individual’s expectations for success (e.g. self-concept of ability) and the task value (interest, importance/utility, costs) the individual attaches to the various perceived options. The findings which are related to the prediction of physical Downloaded By: [Buccheri, Grazia] At: 11:02 12 May 2011 Choice of Scientific and Technical Vocations 173 sciences course enrolment may be applied to this study. They show that gender can only partly be mediated by interests and only if it is the sole mediator. In other words, the impact of gender is mediated by interests, but it also predicts independently course enrolment (Eccles et al., 1998) and, as can be assumed, vocational choices. There are differences in the impact of gender among the representatives of the four education systems on vocational choices: Modelling the two vocational fields shows that gender has a stronger impact on vocational choices in Switzerland or Finland compared to Australia or Korea. Interest in physics has a remarkable impact in Switzerland and in Australia on choosing both vocational fields, but less so in Finland or Korea. On the other hand, interest in human biology generally favours the choice of a medical vocation and deters students from choosing a vocation in engineering. These differences and commonalities could be related to how the various science disciplines, vocational fields and gender roles are viewed in the general culture in these four countries and how these views are reflected, according to Fend (2003), in their respective education systems. In order to improve understanding of these connections, further in-depth studies are required. The characteristics of the education systems described at the beginning of this paper give little explanation for the findings of this study. At first sight, the fact that gender determines specific scientific interests and vocational choices internationally even among high performers is discouraging, considering the political and educational efforts to enforce gender equity.6 The good news is that gender impact seems to differ in strength between the countries: The aim of closing the gender gap completely might be not achievable, but the gap may be minimised, albeit indirectly. Eccles et al. (1998) found that the perceived importance/utility of a physical sciences course, rather than either self-concept of ability or interest, was the strongest predictor of enrolment. Importance/utility had an independent relation to course enrolment and was weakly related to both gender and ability. Emphasising the (rather gender-neutral) importance/utility of a choice of scientific studies or vocations could be a possible approach to motivate (female) students to pursue a scientific career. In the following, empirical findings about how teachers (or parents) and teaching methods could enhance interests, self-concept of ability in science, and the perceived utility of the choice of a scientific vocation are summarised. The provision of various experiences as early as preschool would offer children the opportunity to discover their talents and interests and, therefore, to form different self-perceptions and task values such as interest and utility (Eccles & Harold, 1991). These measures would provide opportunities for girls or children with a modest social background to catch up on background knowledge prior to primary school. Appropriate teaching methods such as a gender-neutral teaching style which integrates female needs but equally fosters males are essential (Labudde, Herzog, Neuenschwander, Violi, & Gerber, 2000; New Zealand Ministry of Education, 2002, as quoted in OECD, 2008, p. 103). This is especially so in secondary school where (female) interests in science are experiencing a decline cross-nationally (Gardner, 1985). Downloaded By: [Buccheri, Grazia] At: 11:02 12 May 2011 174 G. Buccheri et al. Teachers, like parents, are not only the providers but also the interpreters of experiences; thus, they influence the inferences children make about their successes and failures in two ways. Firstly, to the degree that the socialiser lets the children’s gender influence their interpretations, they contribute to the emergence of children’s self-perception and expectations of success or the value of the task (Eccles & Harold, 1991). Secondly, according to the attribution theory (Weiner, 1972), the impact of failure and success on self-perceptions, expectations for future success and self-concept of one’s ability depends on the causal attribution made for success or failure. Girls are more likely than boys to attribute their failures to lacking talent, which consequently lowers their expectations of success (Bird & Williams, 1980); they are also less prone to attribute their successes to aptitude (Eccles-Parsons, Meece, Adler, & Kaczala, 1982). Teachers could positively influence girls’ expectations of success by engaging in attributional retraining for girls. The enhancement of the general importance and utility of sciences generally has a positive impact on interest (Brühwiler, Kis-Fedi, Buccheri, & Mariotta, 2009), and presumably on the individual perception of utility of the choice of scientific courses or vocations. Teaching scientific concepts within their respective contexts allows students not only to make links between their (prior) knowledge, the classroom experiences, and the science to be learned, but also to acknowledge the social relevance and the aims of sciences (Miller et al., 2006; Osborne & Collins, 2000; Todt et al., 1994). Given females’ interest in (human) biology, chemistry and physics teachers could motivate females for these less-preferred domains by relating the subject matter to (human) biology (Miller et al., 2006). Furthermore, cooperative learning situations and a partly single-sex setting are recommended (Labudde et al., 2000; Osborne, Simon, & Collins, 2003). It is suggested that by inviting (female) representatives of industry to give lectures about their career, obsolete images of scientific and technical careers could be updated and corrected. Additionally, companies could facilitate internships to gain further and practical insights into scientific or technical careers. On the level of teacher education, continuing empirical research on how to achieve gender equity in sciences should be incorporated in teacher training (e.g. attributional retraining), while ensuring the solid expertise of the teachers. According to Osborne and Collins (2000), the recruitment and retention of able, bright, and enthusiastic teachers guarantees the quality of science education, which will have a significant impact on students’ attitudes towards sciences. In order to attract and keep especially female professionals in science- and technology-related working environments such as engineering, which are dominated by males, organisational structures and attitudes need to be revised (Faulkner, 2006; Gilbert, 2007; Haffner, Könekamp, & Krais, 2006; Kanter, 1977). Notes 1. Originally, Fend (2003) used the terms Asian countries and Scandinavian countries instead of (North-)East Asian countries and Nordic countries. These terms are not quite adequate. The Choice of Scientific and Technical Vocations 175 2. 3. 4. 5. Downloaded By: [Buccheri, Grazia] At: 11:02 12 May 2011 6. comments on Asian education systems refer only to the countries of (North-)East Asia (e.g. Korea or Japan), and Finland was included in the Scandinavian country group although Finland is not a Scandinavian but a Nordic country. Iceland and Norway performed significantly below the OECD average in sciences. The Swiss sample considers the high performers of all three language regions (74.6% German-speaking, 22.7% French-speaking, and 2.7% Italian-speaking students). The index self-concept in science, although a crucial determinant of vocational choices, has not been accounted for in research question (4), as the variances of self-concept for high performers are small and would not appear as significant in the models. The means of self-concept in science differ significantly by gender throughout the countries, in favour of males. The number of students choosing a scientific career reported in this paper is higher than the number of students of the official international variable self science-related career at 30 (SRC_S). This difference is due to the application of a more detailed and comprehensive assessment of scientific careers. Australia implemented the whitepaper ‘Science for Australian Schools’ in the 1980s, which comprises intercurricular aspects such as gender equity. The attendance and achievement of female students in mathematics and science in secondary school have been supported by coeducation, mono-education, individual programs, mentoring programs, and female teacher education in science subjects (Cook, 2003). In Korea, a gender programme for sciences known as Women into Science and Engineering (WISE) was launched in 2001 and implemented from (junior) high school to university (Ki Won & Heisook, 2007). In 2002, Korea also launched a five-year plan to generally promote young people in science and engineering by facilitating research and by providing students with science-experience opportunities outside regular science classes (OECD, 2008). The plan included teacher training programmes. The national project to improve skills in mathematics and natural sciences (LUMA programme, n.d.) was launched in 1996 at the Finnish Ministry of Education. One further goal was to raise interest in learning mathematics and natural sciences among girls and encourage them to pursue scientific careers. In Switzerland, gender equity has been an issue for the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK) since the 1970s. Nevertheless, there are no programmes to specifically foster equity in science education in primary or lower secondary school (Grossenbacher, 2006). References Baumert, J., Blum, W., & Neubrand, M. (2004). Drawing the lessons from PISA 2000. 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