Math Viewed as ‘Most Valuable’ School Subject, Survey Finds

By Erik W. Robelen — September 06, 2013 1 min read
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Ask a child to name his favorite class, and odds are you’ll hear two letters: P.E. Ask an adult which subject has been most valuable in life, and the most popular answer turns out to be math.

That’s according to new survey results of American adults by the Gallup organization. About one-third of adults (34 percent) picked math. It wasn’t even close. The next in line was English, at 21 percent, followed by science at 12 percent. Here’s the full set of results:

In most respects, the results are similar to how Americans answered the same question from Gallup 11 years ago. One notable exception was science. It’s getting more popular. In 2002, just 4 percent picked science as most valuable, but in the survey administered last month this figure tripled. So maybe that big push for STEM education is making a difference after all.

The results start to look different, however, when broken down by the educational attainment level of those surveyed. In short, math gets less popular the higher the education level, while English and science gain ground.

The data also show some notable differences by gender. True to the stereotype, a larger share of men view math as most valuable. For males, math was far and away the top pick, selected by 40 percent of those surveyed, while 13 percent picked English. For women, 28 percent picked math, and 29 percent picked English. Also, more men (15 percent) than women (10 percent) chose science.

The Gallup results are based on telephone interviews conducted Aug. 7-11 with a random sample of 2,059 U.S. adults age 18 and older.

From time to time, I come across research to describe attitudes toward math and other subjects.

For instance, more parents believe their children will be successful in life through “being good at math” than “being outgoing,” according to a 2012 survey. The results found 53 percent choosing math skills and 42 going with social skills.

Meanwhile, a 2012 survey of middle school students suggests that math is pretty popular, but it doesn’t beat out P.E. In all, 70 percent of students said they liked math. When asked to name their favorite subject, math was selected by 15 percent, falling below physical education (18 percent) and art (16 percent).

The same survey asked whether students would prefer to take out the trash or do their math homework. The winner? Math, chosen by 56 percent. Perhaps reassuring; perhaps not.

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