Policy ForumScience Education

Disparities in science literacy

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Science  25 May 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6391, pp. 861-862
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar8480

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Summary

Much is known about how adult science literacy varies internationally and over time, and about its association with attitudes and beliefs. However, less is known about disparities in science literacy across racial and ethnic groups (1). This is particularly surprising in light of substantial research on racial and ethnic disparities in related areas such as educational achievement, math and reading ability (2), representation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) occupations (3), and health literacy (4). Given the importance of science literacy to securing and sustaining many jobs, to understanding key health concepts to enhance quality of life, and to increasing public engagement in societal decision-making (5), it is concerning if the distribution of science literacy is unequally stratified, particularly if this stratification reflects broader patterns of disadvantage and cultural dominance as experienced by minorities and educationally underserved populations. We describe here such disparities in science literacy in the United States and attempt to explain underlying drivers, concluding that the science literacy disadvantage among black and Hispanic adults relative to whites is only partially explained by measures of broader, foundational literacies and socioeconomic status (SES).