In Australia, research evidence seems to indicate that there has been little change in patterns of restricted opportunities for female school-leavers since the 1950's (Poole, 1984; Sinclair, Crouch and Miller, 1977) despite apparent advances in equal opportunity, anti-discrimination legislation and significant discussion of schooling and sexism. For example, Labour Force figures for August, 1979 show that nearly 2/3 of women were employed in clerical, service and sales jobs as opposed to only 1/5 of men, and that approximately 1/2 of all women in paid employment were found in only 9 occupations as opposed to 41 occupations for men (Earley, 1981). What's more, it's becoming more evident that as full-time job opportunities are becoming fewer, because of such factors as technological innovation and economic recession, the occupations for women are more at risk than those for men (Earley, 1981; Poole, 1984).
Australia-wide, more boys than girls in secondary schools are taking maths and science subjects. The Myers Report (1980) stated, "More than 25% of boys satisfied tertiary entry requirements with two mathematics, physics and chemistry, but only 6% of girls did so; about 45% of boys did so with at least general mathematics, compared with less than 20% of girls" (Earley, 1981, p.277). Without at least Maths I, girls more so than boys, already limit their career options. For instance, at the Queensland University, they would not gain entry to Agricultural science, Forestry, Dentistry, Engineering, Medicine, Pharmacy, Science and Veterinary Science. This means that, in 1985, 66% of boys compared with 47% of girls from Queensland High Schools would have qualified for entry for these courses. Because of the importance of mathematics qualifications to many possible careers, it has been appropriately termed by some as a "critical filter" (Sells, 1980).
In reviewing this situation, Senator Ryan (Federal Education Minister) stated, "Real change won't occur until parents, teachers, administrators and students are aware of, and understand, the social and educational practices which channel girls into sex-stereotyped patterns of subject choice and participation in schools. These patterns ensure that when girls leave school they do not match boys in confidence, self-esteem, and marketable skills. The effects can be seen in the distortions that appear in female and male participation patterns in the work force; and in the patterns of poverty and dependence on government benefits" (Ryan, 1986, p.5).
Considering that about 1/2 of any given population is female, this situation is worthy of investigation. The challenge then, for educators, is to discover why female students avoid mathematics/ science courses in their later high school years. This question is becoming increasingly important since a more sophisticated knowledge of mathematics might now be required for many careers because of recent technological changes (Tobin and Fox, 1980). Even so, it might be suggested that the awareness and understanding of "social and educational practices" that Senator Ryan speaks of may not be sufficient to facilitate "real" change.
If the issue is analyzed at the societal level alone the primary consideration is with observable behaviours and the environmental influences for those behaviours. Cognitive and other internal personal factors are scarcely considered. The significance of these factors is expressed by Bandura (1978, P.345) when he states, "In their transactions with the environment, people are simply reactors to external stimulation. Most external influences affect behaviour through intermediating cognitive processes. Cognitive factors partly determine which external events will be observed, how they will be perceived, whether they have any lasting effects, what valence and efficacy they have, and how the information they convey will be organised for future use." Thus, it is contended that if real change is to be achieved educators will have to include consideration of the role of cognitive mediating processes in relation to the social and educational practices.
The importance of cognitive mediating processes in determining vocational behaviours generally was suggested by Krumboltz et al (1976) in their application of social learning theory to career decision making. This approach was further developed by Hackett and Betz (1981) when they proposed that a key component of cognitive behaviour, perceived self-efficacy, had particular relevance to the understanding of women's vocational behaviours.
Self-efficacy expectations refer to people's beliefs about their ability to successfully perform a given task or behaviour. It is postulated (Bandura, 1977; Bandura, Adams and Beyer, 1977) that self-efficacy expectations, although not the sole determinant of behaviour, are a major determinant of choice behaviour, effort expenditure and persistence in coping behaviours. The higher the perceived efficacy, the greater is the sustained involvement in the task or behaviour and subsequent achievement (Schunk, 1981). It follows from this theory, that psychological interventions designed to change behaviour might do so by strengthening expectations of self-efficacy.
Information by which efficacy expectations might be acquired or modified are derived from four sources; performance accomplishments (experiences 1n personal mastery), vicarious experiences (modelling - watching others successfully performing behaviour), verbal persuasion (encouragement that one can successfully perform a behaviour), and emotional arousal (anxiety that can debilitate performance) (Bandura, 1977).
Successful performance of a given behaviour is probably the most powerful source of self-efficacy expectations, although efficacy judgements are not "mere reflections of those performances" (Schunk, 1983, p.848). Efficacy appraisal is an inferential process that involves weighing of the relative contributions of various personal and situational factors such as "task difficulty, effort expenditure, the amount of external aid received, the situational circumstances of the performance, and the temporal pattern of successes and failures" (Bandura et al, 1980, p.61). 8andura (1977) contends that discrepancies between efficacy expectations and performances are most likely to occur when performance requirements and situational circumstances are ill-defined.
How does self-efficacy theory relate to the current problem being expressed as the lower participation of girls in mathematics/science courses and consequently certain professions? This will be examined in detail subsequently. Hackett and Betz (1981) postulated that women held low self-efficacy expectations for their abilities to successfully undertake certain career-related behaviours, and that this, in part, determined their choices. Their findings indicated that male and female career-related self-efficacy expectations differed. Females reported lower self-efficacy for traditional male occupations while males rated their self-efficacy for all occupations reasonable consistently, in spite of the fact that both males and females possessed the same verbal and quantitative abilities on standardized tests. Without doubt, low self-efficacy expectations could affect the career behaviour of both men and women, but given the continuing limited range of options from which most women choose it might be suggested that this is due partly to differential expectations of efficacy between men and women.
In addition, Betz and Hackett (1983) went on to postulate a relationship between mathematics self-efficacy and educational and career-choice behaviour. There again, it was demonstrated that college females had consistently and significantly weaker mathematics self-efficacy expectations than did college males. Interestingly, females scored higher than the males on only three items on the "everyday-math-tasks" subscale, utilized to assess mathematics self-efficacy. These were mathematics tasks involving stereotypically feminine activities such as cooking and sewing. If females do have low self-efficacy expectations for career-related behaviours and specifically for mathematics-related behaviours, then it follows that 1ntervention strateg1es would be aimed at strengthening these expectancies.
So far, no mention has been made of the question of any biological basis for sex-differences in mathematical ability. This question has long been debated. Moreover, the controversy has recently been revived (Hackett, 1985). Nevertheless, it remains highly speculative, while the existence of sex differences in mathematics background, which appears "unrelated to or to go beyond ability differences" (Fox, 1980, p.195) is well established.
In year 12, students are faced with the imminent conclusion of their schooling and the question, "What are you going to do when you finish school?" becomes a question that requires finalised decision-making now, rather then it being a vague question to be answered at some stage in the "distant" future. The reality of the occupational world looms large. For instance, among adults it is a fact that the use and creation of mathematics is predominantly a male domain. Stein and Smithells (1969, in Fennema, 1980) offered evidence that females in year 12 perceived this fact and were responding to that reality.
Heller and Parsons (1981] point out that it is important to note that sex-differences in expectancies for mathematics don't emerge with any consistent regularity until late junior high school - this being despite the fact that females have performed just as well as males in mathematics before this point in time. Furthermore, Eccles-Parsons (1983) reported strong "year-in-school" effects in her extensive study. The basic finding was that students became more pessimistic and negative about mathematics the older they were. However, this did become apparent sooner among the females than the males. All this evidence suggests the existence of a developmental component that influences self-efficacy expectations and that should be considered when comparing self-efficacy studies of different age groups.
Subjects for the initial survey were selected on the basis of their willingness to co-operate and their availability. The fifty subjects all belonged to the same school in a coastal town of approximately 20,000 people. Thirty girls and 20 boys were involved.
On the basis of the responses to the survey, three girls were selected to be interviewed in further detail. Since the initial survey had been completed anonymously, it proved easier to trace girls who did Maths I, Maths II, Physics and/or Chemistry because of their fewer numbers. It could be postulated that these girls would have higher self-efficacy for these subjects than the girls not taking them and therefore that they would not be ideal subjects for this study. However, it was subsequently considered an advantage to have girls who were completing these subjects since they seemed very aware of social influences and pressures and volunteered information that less aware girls would have been unable to give. At this stage of the investigation it was hoped that some of the responses that the subjects gave would serve as actual illustrations of the points being made.
The survey was completed by the subjects in supervised classrooms. Teachers involved were requested to allow the subjects what time they required to answer all the questions, w1thout any discussion or collaborat1on on their part. Written instructions on the questionnaire stressed accuracy, honesty and brevity.
To obtain raw scores from the collected data, tallies were made for categories or answers and then percentages of the male and female samples were calculated separately. Not all answers to questions could be handled in this way because the answers were too subjective and divergent. Occasionally, the types of answers suggested that some of the questions were not as directly relevant to the study as speculated. In such cases the data wasn't considered further. Since the opinion survey was intended only as a very general indicator of the degree of sex-role stereotyping amongst the subject population, the scores for "Strongly Agree" and "Agree" categories were totalled for comparison with the totals for the "Strongly Disagree" and "Disagree" categories. If the totals of "Agree" differed from the totals of "Disagree" by 2 or less the subjects were said to be "Undecided" upon the particular statement in question. Otherwise subjects were said to be predominantly "Agreeing" or "Disagreeing".
The second part of the study involved the closer questioning of the three selected girls. Although the questions were along the same theme, they were individualised according to each girl's responses in the initial questionnaire. The line of questioning concerned their opinions about their subject choices, their future occupations, influences acting upon them in these matters, their fears, feelings of confidence/capability end their general opinions about girls and their place in the working world.
The questions and answers were completed in writing. It would have been preferable to conduct individual tape-recorded interviews with the girls. However, such meetings couldn't be arranged at the time. Selected statements from these interviews were quoted verbatim as illustrations for points being made in the discussion section.
|Subject||Male (%)||Female (%)|
Table 2 provides percentages of the various categories used for reasons given for either taking or not taking Maths/Chemistry or Physics. Twenty-two percent more boys gave the reason that they felt they needed to take subjects such as Maths/Physics and Chemistry for their possible future jobs. While 38% more girls gave the reason that they didn't take Maths/Physics or Chemistry because they didn't like or weren't interested in these subjects.
|Categories of Reasons||Boys (%)||Girls (%)|
|Ss Taking Maths/Chemistry/Physics||Needed for job||85||43|
|Ss Not Taking Maths/Chemistry/Physics||Lack ability||45||40|
Table 3 shows for each of the nine statements given for the opinions survey whether the Subjects were predominantly "Agreeing" (A), "Disagreeing" (D) or "Undecided" (U). Generally, the girls seem more decided in their opinions than the boys.
|1||There are not enough women in high status jobs.||U||A|
|2||It is not possible for a women to combine a career with having a family.||U||D|
|3||Physics and/or Chemistry are not useful subjects for girls to take at school.||D||D|
|4||Girls who excel at Maths are not well liked by boys.||D||D|
|5||I believe in equal opportunity for women and men in all areas.||U||A|
|6||Boys are generally better at maths than girls.||D||D|
|7||Being a dentist is a man's job.||D||D|
|8||It is better to have a man boss, than a woman boss.||D||D|
|9||Boys have got a greater variety of jobs to select from than girls.||U||A|
As the present study made no use of any measure of self-efficacy it is not able to prov1de answers concerning high school girls and their self-efficacy expectations about their abilities to successfully undertake certain career-related behaviours. This then, is very much a preliminary study, in which the data is cautiously examined to see what it suggests in relation to a self-efficacy approach and its potential.
The differences between the percentages of males and females in maths/sciences courses for the study, clearly demonstrated the state-wide trend; in fact, even more strongly so. It is interesting to speculate about the causal nature of this results. Could mathematics self-efficacy levels for girls in country towns, or at least, some country towns, be especially weak? And if so, could it be because of such factors as the more limited job opportunities in smaller places? Or could the socializing influences be more conservative? Whatever the causes, it does seem evident that in this country town sample there is a need to increase the numbers of girls participating in maths/science subjects.
It will be remembered that Senator Ryan urged a need for all sectors of the community to be made aware of and to understand social and educational practices which may shape a girl's future job opportunities. If we turn to a consideration of the results obtained in the opinions survey (as summarised in Table 3) it could be concluded that the girls, in particular, have a degree of awareness of sex-role stereotyping. The boys seem a little more undecided and one could speculate numerous reasons for this, whether it is a general trend among year 12 Australian boys and if so, whether this affects girls' self-efficacy expectations with regard to subject and career choices. The point is that, even though the girls in this sample demonstrated a degree of awareness of sex-role stereotyping, the percentages of males and females in maths/science courses seemed to indicate that this awareness was not sufficient to change behaviour patterns in girls' subject choices. The results of this study discussed so far therefore, seem to suggest the need of a framework for further detailed study of the internal barriers that might restrict a girl's educational and career choices. It is argued that the self-efficacy approach can provide such a framework. Consideration will now be given to the remaining data (that of the 3 girls' interviews and the Table 2 summary) in the light of the self-efficacy model and previous research findings, as an illustration for this argument.
According to the self-efficacy model one bases one's self-efficacy expectations upon information which might be acquired from four sources - that is, performance accomplishments, vicarious exper1encea, verbal persuasion and emotional arousal. The question is, how can these sources of information feasibly lead to differential expectations of self-efficacy between boys and girls for subject and career choices?
However, turning to the second question, boys do seem to be given more opportunities to gain experiences in a variety of domains other than those related to the home; for example, mechanical skills and carpentry. Subject C (one of the three in-depth interviewees) when asked if she thought girls were just as able as boys to do Maths I and II, Physics and Chemistry, replied in the affirmative and said that it was because boys had been "more exposed to mechanical and scientific work in their development" that they had "more confidence than girls." Even at a very young age, the sex-typing of toys may be partly responsible for the sex-differences found in spatial skills, relevant to mathematics (Hackett and Betz, 1981; Eccles-Parsons, 1983).
In addition, it has been argued that personal needs and values, in particular, sex-role identity, can influence task value and thus task choice and persistence. Specific tasks are identified as consistent or inconsistent with one's sex-role identity. The extent to which they are consistent with one's sex-role identity influences the value of that task. As subject B commented, "many girls are still conditioned by parents and society to think that because they will be mothers they need not aim higher than a secretary!" and "many girls still wonder whether doing a course in Uni or in college is worth it or not."
Eccles-Parsons (1983) proposes that sex-role identity should influence task value only to the extent the task is sex-typed by the individual. For example, a female who sees mathematics as a masculine activity and avoids such activities as a way of affirming her "femininity" should place a low value on mathematics. However, studies have had mixed results. Typically, males have stereotyped mathematics as a male achievement domain more than have females. (Fennema and Herman 1977, in Eccles-Parsons, 1983). Thus, it appears that females are not necessarily stereotyping mathematics at high school as inappropriate for them. But is this so for maths-related careers? Some findings support the idea that career mathematicians are perceived as being decidedly unfeminine. If this is so, it shouldn't be surprising that females would assign a low value to advanced mathematics courses.
Of interest in this respect, is the fact that 85% of the boys in the present sample stated that they selected mathematics because they felt it was necessary for future "jobs", whereas less then half of the maths-taking girls perceived it as having this utility value. Also among the students who did not take mathematics, 43% of the girls gave the reason that they weren't interested in it or disliked it, compared with only 5% of the boys. Is the girl's apparently high level of disinterest to be explained by their placing a low value on maths?
Pertain1ng to careers, it could be argued that males are exposed to v1carious experiences that are more relevant to career-related efficacy expectations purely on the basis of the greater numbers of males to act as role models. Even if an appropriate role-model is discovered for the girl aspiring to a non-traditional female occupation, there is little information for her about getting there. It is a situation which leaves a lot of room for uncertainties on the part of the young female, and therefore leads to the likelihood of discrepancies between efficacy expectations and performance achievements (Bandura, 1977).
In connection with mathematics efficacy expectations, Fox (Fox, Brody and Tobin, 1980) has reported a tendency for more advanced courses to be taught by male teachers. Ernest (in Fox, Brody and Tobin, 1980) points out that fathers are more likely to help their children with homework than mothers after sixth grade. Again, this implies that girls have fewer appropriate role-models in both the home and at school to provide them with vicarious learning experiences which would increase their self-efficacy expectations. It could be contended, therefore, that girls have to have high self-efficacy expectations, derived from the three other sources, to be able to surmount the effects of a lack of same-sex models. According to subject C, from the study sample, "They (girls) have to depend on the 'I'll-prove-my-ability' motivation or sheer hard work to achieve good results and overcome the confidence deficit."
One of the most immediate and significant sources of verbal persuasion for students are their parents. The effect of verbal persuasion may be demonstrated by the statement of subject C that, "Perhaps my belief in the importance of a career has come from my family, but I am opposed to stifling traditionalistic roles...." However, in this case, subject C has been fortunate enough to have been the recipient of verbal persuasion of this type. Evidence does suggest that parents do not offer as much verbal persuasion to strengthen the self-efficacy of their daughters for certain school courses as they do for their sons. For example, Eccles-Parsons (1983) reported that parents had sex-differentiated perceptions of their children's abilities, even though there was little actual difference in performance between their sons and daughters; parents thought advanced was more important for their sons than for their daughters; and they found that parents' beliefs and children's perceptions of these beliefs were more directly related to children's self-concepts, expectancies and plans, than were the children's own past performances. It would seem that it is possible that subject C's statement could be more of an exception than the general rule. It must be remembered that the three subjects used for this study all were those who were participating in Maths/Science courses. It would be interesting to see how girls who weren't participating in Maths/Science subjects assessed the effects of parental persuasion upon them regarding subject and occupational choices.
Some researchers have argued that women and men differ in their emotional reactions and that women avoid it because it is anxiety-provoking (Lazarus, 1974; Tobias, 1978 in Eccles-Parsons, 1983). Betz end Hackett (1983) reported that female college students scored significantly higher for maths-anxiety than males and showed that maths self-efficacy is moderately and negatively correlated w1th maths anxiety.
No statement can be made concerning maths-anxiety among the girls in the present study, except perhaps to speculate whether it could be a "hidden" cause for the girls who didn't take maths - of whom 83% said that they didn't take maths because they didn't like it, weren't interested in it or felt that they didn't have the ability. This figure was 33% higher than for the boys. Why? Again, it would have been interesting to compare statements of three girls who hadn't taken Maths/Science subjects with those of the present study who had. It is felt that in the interests of balance in any future study of this nature, an equal number of non-Maths/Science taking girls should be similarly subjected to in-depth interviews.
In summary, this analysis suggests that there are many possible factors operating to either strengthen or weaken self-efficacy expectations in relation to maths/science courses and non-traditional careers. Seemingly, it is possible quite frequently that these factors can operate to reduce the chances of a girl having high self-efficacy for various vocational behaviours. It is reasserted that the major task might be to help females strengthen their maths/science related and other non-traditional career-related self-efficacy expectations so that they can make choices to allow them to utilize their full potential.
The self-efficacy approach is believed to be valuable, not only from the point of view of organising existing research knowledge, but also for providing a framework for further research and intervention strategies. It particularly has advantages in terms of assessment, treatment and the relationship between the two. This is because of the "behavioural specificity" of the information yielded. "Treatment programs can be designed to incorporate a focus on increasing self-efficacy expectations with respect to those specific behaviours; this, in turn, should generalise to other.... related behaviours." (Betz and Hackett, 1983, p.344). For example, Betz and Hackett's (1983) findings pertaining to 1ncreasing the mathematics self-efficacy of females, suggest an inclusion of traditionally female content areas (e.g. cooking) in mathematics problems.
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|Please cite as: Prideaux, G. (1987). Self-efficacy and educational and career options for girls. Queensland Researcher, 3(3), 29-47. http://www.iier.org.au/qjer/qr3/prideaux.html|