22 SES 12 D, Gender in Academia, the Views of Students
In October 2014, the Croatian parliament adopted a strategy for the development of Croatia’s science, education and technology sectors until 2020. One of the strategy’s priority aims has been to increase the number of tertiary-level students studying in the natural sciences, technology, engineering or mathematics, popularly referred to as STEM subjects. Unfortunately, the strategy document does not address the gender dimension of this aim: increasing the number of students in these areas necessarily involves engaging with the problematic underrepresentation of girls in STEM areas, a finding which is not a Croatian cultural specificity. Available data for EU member states also illustrate gender differentiation in higher education (e.g. EC 2014). In this article we seek to contribute to efforts to explain why we are seeing such findings and to further specify them. More specifically, the goal of our study was to explore how academic motivation, gender stereotypes and gender roles as well as cultural resources shape students’ choices of courses in the technical sciences and social sciences and humanities. Data collection and interpretation have been informed by Eccles, Adler, Futterman, Goff, Kaczala, Meece, and Midgley’s (1983) expectancy-value theory, which we have expanded with Bourdieu’s (1986, 1973) concept of cultural capital. We have also found Bourdieu’s (1984) concept of habitus, or more specifically Reay’s (1998) elaboration of its gender dimension to be a theoretically productive way to capture how students naturalize the gender ‘appropriateness’ of school subjects, study areas and occupations. The main premise of expectancy-value theory is that boys’ better academic achievement in STEM, and higher tendency to choose STEM in secondary and tertiary education courses, can be explained by students’ perceptions of their own competencies in STEM, the lower social support for girls to pursue STEM courses, and also with the perceived conflict between female/feminine gender roles and the masculine image of the STEM field. More specific hypotheses from the theory are that students’ educational choices are influenced by their expectancy of success and subjective task values, which are assumed to be influenced by students’ gender roles and stereotypes (Eccles et al., 1983). Empirical studies on gender stereotypes within the expectancy-value model have usually explored stereotypes about talent or performance of boys and girls in mathematics, sciences or languages (Greene et al., 1999; Debackere and Nelson, 1999; Jugović, Baranović, and Marušić, 2012). According to the model, gender stereotypes can have detrimental effects on educational choices and achievement (Eccles, Jacobs, and Harold, 1990): stereotypes about math and science as a male domain can have negative effects on the educational outcomes of girls, especially if they perceive themselves as feminine, because their gender role is in contrast to their perception of that educational domain. Our study has also worked with Bourdieu’s (1986, 1973) concept of cultural capital in order to examine how family’s educational background, cultural practices and ownership of cultural resources might intersect with gender in shaping students’ educational choices. More specifically, we were interested in examining whether having cultural resources and coming from a more educated family background makes a difference to whether boys and girls choose gender (non)stereotypical courses within an expectancy-value theory framework. In doing so, we wanted to acknowledge social distinctions within our ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ choosers, i.e. acknowledge an aspect of within-group differences which could make a difference to higher education course choices.
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