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The leaky mathematics pipeline for girls: A motivational analysis of high school enrolments in Australia and the USA

Helen M.G. Watt (Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia)
Jacquelynne S. Eccles (Institute for Research on Women and Gender, University of Michigan, Michigan, USA)
Amanda M. Durik (Department of Psychology, Northern Illinois University, Illinois, USA)

Equal Opportunities International

ISSN: 0261-0159

Article publication date: 1 December 2006



Why do girls and women progressively opt out of maths‐related study and careers? This study aims to examine motivations influencing female adolescents' choices for maths participation during high school, which has implications for their long‐term careers.


Two longitudinal samples were included from different contexts – one from Sydney, Australia (N=459), and the other from Southeastern Michigan, USA (N=266). Both samples involved adolescents from upper middle‐class backgrounds, from coeducational government schools, and data in both settings were collected in the mid 1990s. Australian data spanned a three‐year period through grades 9 to 11; while the US sample spanned a five‐year period, with data from grades 8, 10, 11, and 12. The Expectancy‐Value model of Eccles (Parsons) et al., framed structural equation modelling analyses for the influences of maths ability‐related beliefs and values on boys' and girls' subsequent choices for senior high maths participation.


Boys selected higher levels of maths than girls in the Australian setting, although not in the US sample. There was no support for gendered maths achievement as a basis for gendered maths participation. Interest in and liking for maths were the strongest influence on the Australian adolescents' choices for maths participation, with ability beliefs also influencing choices over and above prior mathematical achievement. Ability‐related beliefs and different kinds of values also predicted adolescents' choices in the US sample, more strongly for girls than boys.

Practical implications

Interpretations and implications focus on ways to increase girls' and women's retention in the leaky maths pipeline.


Longitudinal data allow one to determine the extent to which different kinds of motivations predict boys' and girls' mathematical course‐taking through senior high school across Australian and US samples. This has implications for their long‐term careers.



Watt, H.M.G., Eccles, J.S. and Durik, A.M. (2006), "The leaky mathematics pipeline for girls: A motivational analysis of high school enrolments in Australia and the USA", Equal Opportunities International, Vol. 25 No. 8, pp. 642-659.



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