Do a person's verbal skills have any impact on whether he or she pursues a career in science, technology, engineering or math?
Apparently so, according to a recent study by the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Michigan. Because women overall have stronger verbal abilities, they have more career options and so may be less likely to pursue jobs in these more technical fields.
The Pitt research team, headed by principal investigator Ming-Te Wang, collaborated with colleagues at Michigan to investigate whether differences in math and verbal ability were playing a role in the gender disparity in these STEM careers -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
"Our study suggests that it's not a lack of ability or differences in ability that orients females to pursue non-STEM careers but, because they're good at both, they can consider a wide range of occupations," Wang said about the research findings published in the journal Psychological Science.
Although women make up half of the U.S. workforce, they hold fewer than 25 percent of STEM jobs, according to a 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce. This gender gap has remained relatively consistent over the past decade.
The research team looked at a pool of 1,490 randomly selected college-bound U.S. students drawn from a national longitudinal study and found that students who had higher verbal abilities -- a group that contained more women than men -- were less inclined to pursue a STEM occupation.
The survey highlighted data on several factors, including participants' SAT scores, their motivational beliefs and values and their occupations at age 33. Those participants who reported feeling more able and successful at math were more likely to end up in STEM-related jobs. This was especially true for males who had high math abilities and only moderate verbal abilities.
Efforts to close the gender gap are critical because of the fields expected to have the greatest job growth through 2018. Nine of the 10 fastest-growing occupations that require at least a bachelor's degree will require significant scientific or mathematical training, according to the U.S. Labor Department.
Professors and researchers in STEM fields have a number of initiatives underway to encourage women fully capable of excelling in STEM careers to pursue them.
"We should be tapping into the already existing potential of those women who are both mathematically and verbally skilled," Wang said.
(Contact Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Noel Um at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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