Can Parents’ Growth Mindset and Role Modelling Address STEM Gender Gaps?

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STEM gender gaps, growth mindset, role modelling effects


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. Although some work has evaluated whether interventions and certain pedagogical practices improve growth mindset, little is known about the mediating role of parents and whether those 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. We pay particular attention to differences between male and female students. 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 set where data for high school students are linked to data from their parents and followed throughout secondary and postsecondary school. Estimating regression models while controlling for a rich set of covariates, we first show that 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 actually 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, 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.


EDRE Working Paper 2017-07