Bonem, E. M., Wang, C., Lott, E. A., Fedesco, H. N., & Levesque-Bristol, C.


Manuscript submitted for publication.

The gender gap in STEM fields has been a much-discussed topic, but more work is needed to identify solutions to remedy this issue. Following a self-determination theory framework, targeting women’s motivation in STEM courses may provide a strategy for retaining women in STEM fields. In a large-scale, comprehensive model, we examined gender differences in STEM and non-STEM courses on classroom environment, motivation, and academic performance. Results reveal that regardless of gender or discipline, our model strongly and accurately demonstrates the benefits of an autonomy-supportive learning climate on the basic psychological needs, self-determined motivation, and academic outcomes. In addition, we found that women in STEM courses had a weaker relationship between learning climate and perceptions of relatedness compared to both women in non-STEM and men in STEM courses. Similarly, for low-performing females in STEM courses, relatedness was less predictive of their perceived competence compared to high-performing females. Results also revealed that women in STEM courses experience more improvements to their perceived competence if they have a greater sense of autonomy, which is fostered by an autonomy-supportive learning environment compared to men in STEM. This was also true of low-versus high-performing STEM females. Finally, when comparing women in STEM versus non-STEM courses, the relationships between self-determined motivation and student outcomes, including perceptions of learning and final grades, were stronger for women in STEM courses. Implication, limitations and areas for future research are discussed.


Keywords: self-determination theory, motivation, autonomy-supportive learning environment, STEM, gender