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Parental Influences on Those Seeking a Career in STEM: The Primacy of Gender

Adam Lloyd, Jennifer Gore, Kathryn Holmes, Max Smith, Leanne Fray


In many areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), and despite attempts by governments and other agencies to address the issue, females remain significantly underrepresented. Research has shown that parents play a significant role in shaping the aspirations of children with regard to higher education. However, there is a paucity of research exploring the particular influence of parents on the aspirations of children towards STEM. Drawing on data from a four-year mixed-method longitudinal study conducted with students (N = 6,492) in Years 3 to 12 from the Australian state of New South Wales, we examine parent data (survey and focus groups) for those students who expressed an interest in pursuing STEM studies and careers. Students who expressed an interest in STEM were typically high achieving and just over 90% of their parents had aspirations for them to attend university—although this was proportionally higher for sons than for daughters. Even when parents created a supportive environment, there was little evidence indicating that girls were encouraged to pursue STEM. This analysis highlights the complexity and importance of parental influences on student aspirations. When exploring strategies aimed at encouraging students to consider pathways into STEM, we argue that educational institutions should consider ways of actively involving parents in order to counter stereotypical gendered views of STEM and to expand the range of possibilities considered by both girls and boys.


parental influences, STEM, gender, Australia, career choice, student aspirations

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