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Math = Teens' Favorite School Subject

by Heather Mason Kiefer

Math continues its reign this year as the top choice for U.S. teens' favorite subject in school. In a recent Gallup Youth Survey*, nearly a quarter (23%) of 13- to 17-year-olds say math is their favorite subject, essentially the same percentage who said so last year. English/Literature places a distant second at 13% in the 2004 survey, statistically tied with science (12%). Other popular subjects include history (7%), physical education (5%), and industrial arts/shop (5%).

Girls, Boys Display Equal Enthusiasm Toward Math

For decades, girls' math and science scores have lagged behind boys', but recent studies and proficiency assessments indicate that girls are gaining ground. Interestingly, approximately the same percentages of girls and boys in the 2004 survey say math is their favorite subject (24% of boys, 22% of girls), and 12% of both boys and girls say science. However, girls are far more likely to name English/literature as their favorite subject than boys are -- 22% vs. 5%. Boys are more likely than girls to say phys ed or industrial arts/shop is their favorite subject.

In Their Own Words

Gallup also asked Youth Survey respondents to explain why their favorite subject is their favorite. Responses ranged widely, but the most common ones are simple -- for example, "it's fun," "it's easy," or "I understand it." A 14-year-old girl says, "Math is my favorite because I love to count. Math to me is very easy to learn and understand." One 15-year-old boy whose favorite subject is English says simply, "I'm very good with the English language."

Other teens say that a good teacher makes all the difference in making a subject their favorite. A 13-year-old girl who says science is her favorite subject explains, "The teacher is very interested in the subject and puts a lot of effort into teaching." Another math enthusiast comments, "I have a really good teacher who makes it fun and he helps to explain problems to the students individually and works with them until they understand."

Many students who say math is their favorite subject like it because there are clear right and wrong answers. One 17-year-old boy says about math, "It has a definite answer in which you can check yourself. English and other subjects can have multiple answers and correct answers to various degrees." Some students -- like this 16-year-old girl -- name English as their favorite subject for the same reason that other students dislike it: "It's my favorite because it allows for a lot more creativity than other subjects such as math in which there is only one right answer."

Other Responses

Unfortunately, some teens' reasons why certain subjects are their favorites have little to do with academics. One 16-year-old boy says lunch is his favorite subject "because there's food and girls around to buy my food." Another teen says, "I like study hall and gym. In study hall, I can sleep and in gym, I get to play games. Every other subject is useless info that I will never use." Responses such as these reflect the reality that some teens are completely disengaged at school. In fact, 8% of teens say they do not have any favorite subject at school.

*The Gallup Youth Survey is conducted via an Internet methodology provided by Knowledge Networks, using an online research panel that is designed to be representative of the entire U.S. population. The current questionnaire was completed by 785 respondents, aged 13 to 17, between Jan. 22 and March 9, 2004. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

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