Teens skip science and go for the money

KING’S COLLEGE LONDON (UK) — Adolescents may enjoy the sciences in school, but they see the business world as a more lucrative career choice, according to new research.

The report, part of a wider five year longitudinal study by the ASPIRES team at King’s College London, shows that although more than 70 percent of pupils are interested in science, only 14.5 percent aspire to careers in it, showing that enjoyment of the subject does not translate into future aspirations.

Of those surveyed 76 percent said “usefulness for future career” was the main motivation behind further education choices, suggesting that science is not perceived as a valuable tool for future success.

“Current career advice seems to be failing to inform young people about how useful science qualifications are in the labor market,” says Louise Archer, professor of sociology of education at King’s, who leads the ASPIRES team. “Science qualifications are highly transferable, but most of the young people and families in our study were unaware of this.”

In comparison, business was the first choice of career for 62 percent of those questioned, indicating the surfacing of a so-called “apprentice generation.” These findings support the suggestion that having grown up in the midst of the recession, young teenagers increasingly aspire to entrepreneurship rather than to scientific achievement.

The study also found that science was perceived as a stereotypically masculine career path, while perceptions of women in science conflict with girls’ notions of  “normal” or “desirable” femininity. Business aspirations, however, had much less gender bias with both girls and boys expressing keen interest in such occupations.

“The jobs of  ‘scientist’ and ‘engineer’ are still popularly perceived as being male-dominated careers. This is undoubtedly a problem and has a negative impact on girls’ aspirations in these fields, whereas this doesn’t seem to be the case for business. Girls are able to imagine a future for themselves in entrepreneurship and can see ways it can fit with their identities and interests,” Archer says.

With the continued push to promote opportunities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers, the ASPIRES team proposes several recommendations for increasing the participation of young people in science.

“Integrating information about the ways in which science is relevant for a highly diverse range of careers could help increase young people’s engagement with, and interest in, science at school,” Archer says. “It could help them appreciate the real world relevance of what they learn in class and increase motivation to study science subjects post-16.”

The study also highlights the importance of changing the perception of science subjects and careers in order to increase female participation. The researchers call for views which associate science with masculinity to be challenged and advise offering support to girls to help them break into typically male fields.

“Girls may need extra support from families and schools to help them develop resilience and to persevere into the more traditionally ‘masculine’ areas of post-16 science, like physics and engineering,” Archer concludes.

Source: King’s College London