Study Shows African American Girls Inclined to Science Early
Young African American females show a strong inclination toward science in their high school years because of strong female role models in their lives — usually their working mothers, according to a study completed at The Catholic University of America. However, the researchers also concluded that both African American and White women drift away from science in college.
Dr. Sandra L. Hanson, a professor of sociology at the Washington, D.C.-based university who specializes in gender issues, says that past research has looked at women in science, but few studies focus on gender subcultures such as African American or Asian women.
“There is a stereotype that few young African American women have an interest in science careers, and that they would be disadvantaged in pursuing a career in science and engineering,” Hanson says. “Our study shows that’s not the case at all. African American women are confident in their abilities and not intimidated by science and mathematics.”
Drawing from previous research, Hanson and Elizabeth Palmer Johnson, a graduate student in sociology, conclude that positive attitudes about science prevail among African American girls. The authors identified advantages for African American women in three key areas to success in science: achievement, access to math and science courses, and attitudes.
Hanson says African American women have an edge in science over their male counterparts because families, schools and communities are still investing more in females than males.
“It’s unfortunate but true that families and communities are investing more in the future of African American women,” Hanson says. The reason for this, Hanson says, is that historically Black families worry their daughters will end up in domestic-type work, whereas Black men, and men in general, are perceived as always able to learn a trade.
In an interview with Black Issues, Hanson says the reverse is often the case in the White community, where families typically invest more in the education of their sons. Hanson discovered other differences between the two cultures that give Black women an advantage in pursuing a career in the sciences.
“In the White community, the perception is that work and family are difficult to combine,” Hanson says, “whereas Black women have historically worked and raised a family. And this gives them an advantage. And marriage for Black women is not seen as a way to get ahead or improve their financial situation; again, this is different in the White community.”
Hanson adds that mentoring opportunities and other support systems to sustain the interest and confidence in science among African American women are needed. Hanson is planning to do follow-up research, which includes looking at the most productive educational environment for young Black women to pursue their interest in science, such as attending a historically Black college or university, a women’s college or a combination of the two.
Hanson and Johnson drew their data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study. Their findings were published in the most recent volume of The Journal of Minorities in Science and Engineering (6:4, 2000).
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