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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01242

Self-concept and support experienced in school as key variables for the motivation of women enrolled in STEM subjects with a low and moderate proportion of females

  • 1Federal Centre for Professionalization in Education Research, University of Teacher Education Styria, Austria
  • 2Educational Psychology, Institute of Psychology, University of Graz, Austria
  • 3Learning and Teaching with Media, Department of Education, Universität der Bundeswehr München, Germany

The proportion of women enrolled in STEM courses at university level has remained consistently low for decades. Differences however exist between various STEM domains: While engineering and technology appear especially unattractive, subjects such as mathematics, biology, or chemistry have better chances at attracting women. Research has mostly neglected these differences, treating STEM as an overall category. In the light of the differences in the proportions of women enrolled in and dropping out of various STEM subjects, the present study takes a more differentiated look to separately investigate the STEM subjects that have a low or moderate proportion of females.
The following study focuses on female university students’ intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in these two groups of STEM subjects, asking to what degree the academic STEM self-concept and support experienced in both school and in the family contribute to the motivation to study a STEM topic.
469 female students took part in the investigation. 284 of them were enrolled in STEM subjects with a low proportion of females (STEM-LPF) and 185 in STEM subjects with a moderate proportion of females (STEM-MPF).
A comparison of the two samples shows that women in STEM-LPF exceed women in STEM-MPF with regard to their academic STEM self-concept, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Different variables contribute to motivation in the two samples. For STEM-LPF, a latent regression analysis found positive relationships between the academic STEM self-concept and both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, while support experienced in school and from the family were not related to motivation.
In contrast, in the STEM-MPF sample, the academic self-concept was not related to motivation. Previous interest in STEM subjects in school contributed positively to present intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. An unexpected result however was found concerning activities in school that were designed to promote interest in STEM. Memories of these kinds of activities were negatively related to both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. These measures might be experienced as intrusive support: attempts to promote STEM sometimes might backfire and achieve the opposite of what was intended.

Keywords: gender, STEM - Science Technology Engineering Mathematics, Academic self-concept, Motivation, School factors, university students, latent regression analysis

Received: 08 Dec 2018; Accepted: 10 May 2019.

Edited by:

Carl Senior, Aston University, United Kingdom

Reviewed by:

Nicole Farris, Texas A&M University Commerce, United States
Calah Ford, University of Kentucky, United States  

Copyright: © 2019 Luttenberger, Paechter and Ertl. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Silke Luttenberger, University of Teacher Education Styria, Federal Centre for Professionalization in Education Research, Graz, Styria, Austria,