Gender Gap in Motivation?

By Katie Ash — June 18, 2008 1 min read

This commentary, by Leonard Sax, makes an interesting point. He says:

The real gender gap is not in ability but in motivation--not in what girls and boys can do, but in what girls and boys want to do: specifically, in what they want to learn, and how they want to learn it.

The number of women studying physics and computer science has dropped by 50 percent in the past 20 years, says Sax, and part of the reason may be that girls respond better to different teaching methods than boys do. They’re more interested in “the nature of things” than “kinematics and momentum"--which is what most piques the interest of boys, he says, and is the introduction to traditional physics classes in the United States.

But as one commenter points out, and this blog post by eduwonkette explains, data from the National Science Foundation as well as the American Institute of Physics shows that women studying science are actually growing in number, not dwindling.

Still, for purposes of this blog, the more fascinating debate for me is whether different teaching methods actually motivate one gender more than the other. It makes sense that different people are motivated by different things, but whether those preferences fall easily down gender lines... that I’m not so sure about.

Have you experienced this phenomenon in your classroom? Do you think girls and boys could benefit from being taught separately, or do you think that separation would cause more harm than good?

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