Poster Paper: Can Parents' Growth Mindset and Role Modelling Address STEM Gender Gaps?

Friday, November 3, 2017
Regency Ballroom (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Albert Cheng1, Katherine M Kopotic2 and Gema Zamarro2, (1)Harvard University, (2)University of Arkansas

Despite widespread interest and value in introducing and better-preparing students to enter the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, a gender gap persists as women are underrepresented among STEM jobs and degree completion. Factors such as gender stereotyping, a lack of role models, socialization practices, or a lack of positive peer influences may explain these trends (Jacobs & Bleeker, 2004; Robinson-Cimpian et al., 2014). Although some work has evaluated whether interventions and certain pedagogical practices improve growth mindset (Dweck, 2007), little is known about the mediating role of parents and whether effects are more pronounced for females. In this study, we explore the extent to which the mindsets of a student’s parents regarding math ability influence the student’s mindset in math ability and longer-term STEM-related outcomes, and pay particular attention to differences between genders. We also explore if student outcomes can be attributable to a role modeling effect through parental occupation type (i.e., whether the parent has a job in the STEM field or not) or if there is a remaining direct inheritance from parent growth mindset after controlling for parental occupation. We test these hypotheses in the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS), a nationally-representative data of high school students. This data is unique in that it measures growth mindset of parents along with socio-emotional outcomes for children and follows students until they potentially finish postsecondary education and enter the labor force. This allow us to capture effects of parent’s on their children in different important stages in their education.

Our results show that, even after controlling for a rich set of covariates, students who exhibit greater levels of growth mindset, self-efficacy, and effort, particularly when it comes to their math coursework, demonstrate higher math achievement, complete more advanced math courses, are more likely to earn a college degree in a STEM field, and are more interested in and likely to enter the STEM fields. We then show that parent growth mindset is positively associated with these student non-cognitive skills and outcomes, though the effect seems to fade away over time. On the other hand, although parental occupation type does not consistently explain short- and medium-term STEM outcomes, but it does explain longer-term outcomes in early adulthood like graduating with a STEM degree and working in the STEM field. Thus, parent growth mindset and any role modelling effect channeled through parental occupation appear to independently influence student outcomes in different stages.


Dweck, C. (2007). Is math a gift? Beliefs that put females at risk, in Why Aren’t More Women in Science? Top Researchers Debate the Evidence, Eds S.C.Ceci & W.M. Williams (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association), 47–55.

Jacobs, J.E., & Bleeker, M.M. (2004). Girls’ and boys’ developing interests in math and science: Do parents matter? New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 106, 5-21.

Robinson-Cimpian, J.P., Ganley, C.M., Copur-Genctruck, Y. (2014). Teachers’ perceptions of students’ mathematics proficiency may exacerbate early gender gaps in achievement. Developmental Psychology, 50(4), 1262-1281.