Winning Proposal to the Sarri Family Fellowship: 2019 Competition

Project Title: I’m Just Not a “Math Person”: Categorically Different Identities and their Development by Race and Gender

Faculty Sponsor: Elizabeth Bruch

Graduate Student: Anne Clark

Project Description

Among scholars who examine how math interest and self-competence evolve with age, there is disagreement as to whether the gender gap grows or shrinks with age. Furthermore, there is no research on whether gaps between white students and underrepresented minorities grow or shrink with age. Understanding the process whereby young people begin or cease to identify themselves as math people is crucial to diminishing the gender gap in pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors. Do girls start with stronger math identities and get discouraged, or develop greater self-competence after a proven record of strong performance? Furthermore, it is clear that this process differs for white girls and minority girls. Black girls especially receive more encouragement in STEM at home while experiencing greater racial bias in school compared to white girls.

Uncovering the most common pathways whereby girls’ math identities evolve is important for identifying the most effective developmental stages for interventions increasing girls’ interest and self-competence in math. Furthermore, an intersectional analysis allows us to target strategies more effectively, for example, based on school or neighborhood racial composition. Therefore, the first goal of this study is to use a nationally representative data set to describe common trajectories of identity development in elementary and middle school and race and gender differences in the likelihood of taking any given pathway. The second goal of this study is to identify predictors of race and gender differences in pathways of identity development.