Science capital is a measure of someone’s engagement with science and how much it is valued in their life. The concept also provides an understanding of what can be done to help increase peoples engagement with STEM.
The research into science capital by King’s College London/ UCL and the Enterprising Science project, is helping to explain why some young people are more likely to study STEM subjects and value it for their future lives and careers. It is also helping to define what influences and shapes people’s attitudes towards science and see science as something that is useful and important in their life and society.
The concept of science capital is based on the work of Pierre Bourdieu, a French sociologist who voiced the notion of cultural capital. This idea recognises how the social and cultural experiences that individuals have affect how easily they can get ahead in life.
In a similar way, science capital considers all of the science related knowledge, social contacts, attitudes, skills and cultural experiences that a person has had in their life. All of these things are can affect their confidence, behaviours and self-identity with science learning and engagement experiences.
A simple analogy of science capital is to imagine it as a bag or holdall which collects and carries all of the science-related experiences that you have had and acquired throughout your life. All the things you learned about science at school and beyond; the different types of science activities you have done – such as watching science TV programmes or visiting science museums/ centres; the people you know who use and talk about science; and how science makes you feel – is it something you enjoy and like or not.
Your science capital is not fixed, it can change across a lifetime, and small changes in the way science content is delivered and experienced can, over time, impact on and build your science capital.
Science capital in the UK
A nationally representative survey conducted with 3,658 11-15 year olds in England (as part of the Enterprising Science project in 2014) found that :
- 5% of young people have ‘high’ science capital (they are more likely to be socially advantaged, and male)
- 68% of young people have medium levels of science capital
- 27% of young people have low science capital
Although the survey was completed with children, their science capital is likely to reflect that of their families. These statistics highlight that there is opportunity to grow the science capital of a large percentage of society.
So, why is science capital important?
Science and innovation makes and sustains our modern society, it has the power to change the way we live our lives and is integral to our future. By growing science capital in individuals and society, we can help more people to see science as an important part of their lives and culture, which will help broaden opportunities and access for STEM-related jobs in the future.
What can influence people’s engagement and attitudes towards science?
The research has identified that there are eight dimensions of science capital which can affect a person’s connection and relationship with science. Understanding what these influences are can help us, in museums and science centres, to design and deliver learning opportunities that will engage more people with science. You can read about the Science Museum Group’s reflections on the eight dimensions in our blog post What influences science capital: The eight dimensions.
You can read more about science capital in a short booklet produced by the researchers from King’s College London here: Science capital made clear.