The Development of Adolescents’ Math and English Self-Concept Patterns and Their Associations With College Major Selection

For Immediate Release: April 28, 2017

Tony Pals,
(202) 238-3235, (202) 288-9333 (cell)

Victoria Oms,
(202) 238-3233

Study Snapshot: The Development of Adolescents’ Math and English Self-Concept Patterns and Their Associations With College Major Selection

Study: The Development of Adolescents’ Math and English Self-Concept Patterns and Their Associations With College Major Selection
Authors: Osman Umarji (University of California, Irvine) and Jacquelynne Eccles (University of California, Irvine) 

This study will be presented at the AERA 2017 Annual Meeting
Session: Advances in Self-Concept Research
Date/Time: Friday, April 28, 4:05 pm


  • This study is one of the first longitudinal analyses of students’ perceptions of their math and English abilities and of how those perceptions relate to choice of college major. Using data from the Michigan Study of Adolescent and Adult Life Transitions, researchers analyzed 804 students who started participating in the Michigan study as 6th graders and later were enrolled in college at age 21.

  • The study found that in 6th grade, students’ self-concept in math and English were positively correlated, meaning that students who perceived themselves as competent in one subject also felt competent in the other subject. However, by 12th grade, students who had high perceptions of their math abilities felt worse about their English abilities, and vice versa.

  • Whereas students may perceive themselves as competent in multiple academic areas early in adolescence, over time they graduate toward seeing themselves as more of a “math” or “verbal” person, even when they remain competent in both areas.

  • Females were found to have lower average math self-concepts throughout elementary, middle, and high school, even though math achievement between genders did not differ. For English self-concept, while there was no difference in 6th grade between genders, females were higher than males from 7th grade through 12th grade.

  • Stereotypical gender differences become even more pronounced by 12th grade. Females were overrepresented in the groups reporting high self-concepts of English relative to math, while males were overrepresented in those groups with higher math self-concept relative to English.

  • Results also showed that females generally went into less math-intensive majors than males, regardless of their self-concept group.

  • The researchers suggested several possible reasons for this pattern. Prior research has found that males and their parents often attribute their success to talent, while females and their parents attribute their success to effort, which over time may lead to gender differences in math self-concept.

  • Alternatively, earlier research has also shown that males brag about their math competence more than women do, leading to females making downward social comparisons about their ability to male classmates.

  • It could also be that females place higher value than males do on the importance of making occupational sacrifices for one’s family, while males place more value on fame, earning a higher income, seeking out more challenging tasks, and doing work that involves the use of math and computers. Another reason may be the perception of math-intensive careers such as computer science, engineering, and physics as nerdy— stereotypes that may be incompatible with women’s gender stereotypes.

To receive an embargoed copy of a full paper, or to talk to paper authors, please contact AERA Communications: Tony Pals, Director of Communications,, cell: (202) 288-9333Victoria Oms, Communications Associate,, cell: (505) 850-3907

About AERA
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the largest national interdisciplinary research association devoted to the scientific study of education and learning. Founded in 1916, AERA advances knowledge about education, encourages scholarly inquiry related to education, and promotes the use of research to improve education and serve the public good. Find AERA on Facebook and Twitter.

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