Demographic predictors of senior secondary participation in biology, physics, chemistry and earth/space sciences: students’ access to cultural, social and science capital

Grant Cooper, Amanda Berry

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

    17 Citations (Scopus)


    Adding to concerns about falling participation rates in science education, the profile of certain student groups who go on to study decreases, particularly as the year level increases. The aim of this paper is to examine if, and in what ways, demographic factors predict students’ post-16 participation in biology, physics, chemistry and earth/space sciences. The study was conducted in Australia, drawing on data from over 4,300 students. Characteristics of focus include students from low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds, indigeneity and gender. Outcomes of this study indicate that SES predicts participation in post-16 science subjects in each science domain. Indigenous status was a negative predictor of student participation in biology, physics and chemistry, but not earth/space sciences, where there were no significant differences in participation. Gender is a significant predictor in biology and physics participation, but not chemistry or earth/space sciences. Drawing on Bourdieusian perspectives, the authors discuss associations between participation and access to cultural, social and science capitals. Implications for the ways in which students’ capital may impact their subject choices and how capital may be enhanced, are explored.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)151-166
    Number of pages16
    JournalInternational Journal of Science Education
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2020


    • equity
    • gender and science participation
    • Indigenous students and science
    • low SES
    • Post-16 science participation
    • underrepresentation

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