Sex Roles [sers] pp884-sers-466839 June 10, 2003 16:9 Style ﬁle version June 3rd, 2002
Sex Roles, Vol. 49, Nos. 3/4, August 2003 (
A Q-Methodological Study of Women’s Subjective
Perspectives on Mathematics
Debra L. Oswald
and Richard D. Harvey
The objective of this study was to explore, using Q-methodology, women’s subjective reac-
tions to and experiences with mathematics. Ninety-six undergraduate women from a private
university conducted Q-sorts on items that related to their personal experiences, attitudes, and
belief/awareness of gender stereotypes for math. On the basis of the Q-factor analysis, three
unique perspectives toward math emerged. The perspectives were classiﬁed as “Successfully
Encouraged,” “Stereotypically Discouraged,” and “Mathematically Aversive.” These group-
ings were differentiated by their variety of experiences, attitudes, and awareness of stereotypes
about math. Measures of math self-schema, math anxiety, and self-reported math ability were
also used to interpret the groupings. This research revealed the women’s various experiences
with and attitudes toward math. The ﬁndings are integrated with previous theories in order to
understand women’s underrepresentation in math-related ﬁelds.
KEY WORDS: gender; stereotypes; mathematics; Q-methodology.
Within both educational and occupational set-
tings, women are underrepresented in ﬁelds that re-
quire high levels of mathematics. Currently, women
hold only 22.8% of the jobs in math- and science-
related ﬁelds (National Science Foundation, 2000).
Women earned only 35% of the bachelor’s degrees
in physical science, math, and computer science
(National Science Foundation, 2000). Further, math
is consistently stereotyped as a masculine domain
(Jacklin & Baker, 1993; Nosek, Banaji, & Greenwald,
2002; Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999). Although mul-
tiple theories have identiﬁed important factors in
regard to women’s math interest and performance,
little attention has been given to women’s personal
appraisals and math ideologies. Thus, the goal of this
study was to examine undergraduate women’s subjec-
tive perspectives about mathematics.
Previous theoretical models have been devel-
oped in an attempt to understand the variables
Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Saint Louis University, Saint Louis, Missouri.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Department
of Psychology, Marquette University, P.O. Box 1881, Milwaukee,
Wisconsin 53201; e-mail: email@example.com.
associated with women’s math-related choices. In
particular, Eccles’ model (Eccles, 1987, 1994) of
occupational choice was developed as an attempt
to integrate the variables that lead women to make
gender-stereotypic choices. This model has been
especially useful for examining women’s underrepre-
sentation in math-related ﬁelds (e.g., Eccles, Barber,
& Jozefowicz, 1999; Eccles, Jacobs, & Harold, 1990).
Speciﬁcally, the model describes the variables that
inﬂuence a person’s expectations to succeed and the
subjective value of a domain. If women do not expect
to succeed and place relatively little value on math,
then they will not choose to take advanced classes or
go into math-related ﬁelds.
Many researchers have found that women’s ex-
pectations for success in math, their self-conﬁdence,
and their self-efﬁcacy in their math abilities is of-
ten low (Betz & Hackett, 1983; Eccles, 1987; Lapan,
Shaughnessy, & Boggs, 1996). This is troublesome,
as math self-efﬁcacy is an important mediating fac-
tor for choosing math- and science-based college ma-
jors and careers (Betz & Hackett, 1983; Lapan et
al., 1996). Women also tend to rate their ability and
the personal importance of math lower than their
2003 Plenum Publishing Corporation