[CUA Office of Public Affairs]                                                                        

Jan. 22, 2001

 

African-American Girls Are Inclined to Science Early, Study Shows

Because of strong female role models in their lives – usually their working mothers – young African-American women show a strong inclination toward science in their high schools years, according to a study completed at The Catholic University of America.

The study concluded that on a variety of science measures African-American women do as well as or better than white women and African-American men. When compared to white women, African-American women have better attitudes toward science.

Sandra L. Hanson, professor of sociology at The Catholic University of America, and Elizabeth Palmer Johnson, a graduate student in sociology, drew their data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study. Their findings were published in the most recent volume of The Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering (6:4, 2000).

Previously, little research has focused on African-American women in science, Hanson noted. Conclusions about women and about African-American youth in general have been applied to them, she noted.

"There is a stereotype that few young African-American women have an interest in science careers, and that they would be disadvantaged in pursuing a career in science and engineering," Hanson said. "Our study shows that's not the case at all. African-American women are confident in their abilities and not intimidated by science and mathematics."

Drawing from previous research and the data set, the researchers conclude that positive attitudes about science prevail among African-American girls. The authors identified an advantage for African-American women in three areas key to success in science: achievement, access to math and science courses, and attitudes.

Conclusions were drawn from data taken in 1988, 1990 and 1992, and included 922 African American females, 897 African American males, 4,213 white females and, in some analyses, 4,218 white males. African-American women do better because of these factors, Hanson said:

· African-American women are very much influenced by their mothers, who emphasize education as the means to social mobility. Mothers in the African-American sample tend to have higher education relative to their husbands than in the white sample. This counters a mistaken belief, Hanson said, that young African-American women are encouraged to marry early as a means to achieve upward mobility.

Even when their mothers work in fields not related to science and math, African-American women show a strong inclination toward science careers, according to Hanson and Johnson's research.

• African-American women have an edge in science over their male counterparts, because families, schools and communities are still investing more in females than males, Hanson said. "It’s unfortunate, but true, that families and communities are investing more in the future of African-American women," she said.

Unfortunately, both African-American and white women drift away from science in college, Hanson said. The study points to a need for mentoring opportunities and other support systems to sustain the interest and confidence African-American women show as teen-agers, she said.

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Revised: Nov. 30, 2000

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