Cascade Middle School

As attention continues to focus on the persistent gender gap in STEM fields, a new study from the University of Washington College of Education sheds light on the role of motivation.

In exploring four key subconstructs of motivation shown to influence students’ STEM outcomes (identity, utility, self-efficacy and interest) the UW researchers found that relationships between motivation constructs and STEM outcomes aren’t moderated by gender, providing additional evidence that gaps aren’t a result of inherent differences between male and female students. 

“One type of motivation is not more important for females than for males,” said Amy Sharp, a UW doctoral student who co-authored and presented the paper “The unique contributions of math and science motivation to STEM outcomes: A model comparison study” at the 2017 meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

“For example, math and science identity are equally important for males and females,” Sharp said, “but current STEM culture privileges a male identity, potentially leading to the oppression of women in STEM and the subsequent ‘leaking’ from the pipeline at all stages.”

In their research, Sharp and her colleagues drew on data from a national longitudinal study of high school students that examined their motivations and three key STEM outcomes: 1) STEM career aspirations, 2) STEM-specific GPA and 3) STEM credits earned.

For all students, science identity was predictive of all three outcomes, implying it may be a more universal STEM predictor than other motivation constructs. As such, Sharp said those exploring interventions should look to increase students’ science identity in order to broaden their impact on STEM outcomes.

The current study is useful, Sharp said, for informing intervention research about which motivation constructs provide unique additional predictive power. Findings suggest that for both males and females:

  1. Interventions related to increasing STEM course enrollment target math and science identity and self-efficacy;
  2. Interventions related to STEM achievement target math identity and math self-efficacy in particular while also potentially including math interest, science identity and science self-efficacy; and
  3. Interventions related to STEM career aspirations target math interest and science identity.


Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications