School & District Management

U.S. Teens Understand the Value of Math and Science, Survey Finds

By Erik W. Robelen — November 11, 2010 2 min read
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Nearly all American teenagers recognize the importance of math and science, and most are confident in their own abilities in the subjects, a new survey of U.S. youths suggests.

At the same time, teenagers are far less confident in the nation’s ability to be competitive in math and science, according to findings in the survey of some 1,000 teens, which was commissioned by the Intel Corp.

Given all the recent attention to building up interest in the STEM fields, including from President Obama, it may be surprising to learn from this survey that students do seem to “get it” in terms of the importance of science and math. In fact, a clear majority of teenagers (68 percent) agreed that math and science know-how will be required of most jobs in the future. And 58 percent said they aspire to a math- or science-related career.

The survey used several questions to gauge and flesh out perceptions of the importance of math and science among young people.

On the global question, “How important do you think it is to be good at math and science?”, 99 percent said it was either “very important” (68 percent) or “somewhat important” (31 percent).

Meanwhile, 59 percent agreed that math and science are “important for me to get into college.” At the same time, only 44 percent view it as important to “solving society’s big problems.”

And to the issue you’ve all been waiting for, I’m afraid that math and science excellence still seems to have a geek stigma. Only 4 percent of respondents said that math and science is “an area cool people tend to be good at.”

A press release from Intel suggests there may be a disconnect between students’ confidence in their abilities in science and math and the reality, given the performance of U.S. students, including in international comparisons where they tend to lag behind many other developed nations.

“These findings raise a lot of questions,” Shelly Esque, a vice president at Intel, said in the news release. “Are teens overconfident? Or is it that they are not being challenged enough?”

There are other findings worth checking out in the survey, too. One other area I’ll highlight is an apparent gender gap when it comes to self-confidence, something I’m sure you’ve heard about before.

While most teenagers said they were confident in their abilities in science and math, a greater percentage of males (89 percent) had this belief about themselves than females (79 percent). In fact, the gap is a bit larger among those who said they were “very confident” as opposed to “somewhat” confident. Forty-nine percent of males were “very confident” compared with 36 percent of females.

The survey was conducted online in September by Penn Schoen Berland.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.