Math is America’s “most valuable subject”, but favored most strongly by conservatives

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Math may not be the most popular subject in school, but it is the clear winner when Americans are asked which subject has been the most valuable to them in their lives.

According to a Gallup survey released Wednesday, math earns the vote of more than one-third of respondents (34%) followed by English/literature at 21 percent.

While these findings are consistent with responses from August 2002, science/physics/biology has dramatically increased in its “value” over the past decade from 4 percent in 2002 to 12 percent today.

History is deemed the most valuable by 8 percent; business/accounting by 4 percent; social studies and psychology by 3 percent, respectively; and economics and art/theater/music by 2 percent, respectively.

Interestingly, while greater than 75 percent of Americans identify as religious and about one-third report attending religious services each week, just 1 percent feel the academic study of theology/religion has been the most valuable to their lives.

Differences in respondents’ education level and political orientation are related to what subjects are seen as most valuable.

For example, among those with high school or less, 43 percent ranked math as the most valuable to their lives, compared with 26 percent of those with college degrees, and 19 percent of those with post-graduate degrees.

The opposite is true for the study of English and literature: 19 percent of those with high school or less ranked this subject as most important, compared with 25 percent of those with college or post-graduate degrees.

Math is ranked as most valuable in greater portion by men (40%) than women (28%), while English and reading are ranked most highly by more women (29%) than men (13%).

Conservatives and moderates both see math as a clear winner (38% and 35%, respectively), while liberals are about as likely to see math and English as equally valuable (26% for math, 24% for English).  Economics earns the vote of 2 percent of conservatives, 3 percent of moderates, and 1 percent of liberals; while art/theater/music is considered most valuable by 1 percent of conservatives, 2 percent of moderates, and 4 percent of liberals.

Because Gallup asked this as an open-ended question, respondents were not forced to choose among options.  Two percent of Americans responded by saying that “no” school subject has been most valuable to their lives, while one percent went with “all”.

Karen Cyphers, PhD, is a public policy researcher, political consultant, and mother to three daughters. She can be reached at [email protected]