Most Important School Subject? 'Science' Sees Big Jump in Poll

flasks filled with colored liquids in lab.
How important has science been in your life? (Image credit: Irochka |

The quest for knowledge seems to be gaining value, as three times as many Americans now say science is the most valuable school subject than did so more than a decade ago, a new Gallup poll finds.

Science bumped out history for the third spot behind No. 1 math and No. 2 language arts (English, literature and reading) as the school subject that has been most valuable to Americans' lives.

In 2002, 4 percent of respondents mentioned "science/physics/biology," as the most valuable subject, whereas 12 percent said the same in the new Gallup poll, conducted Aug. 7–11. [5 Seriously Mind-Boggling Math Facts]

After history, in order of perceived value, came business/finance/accounting, social studies, psychology, economics and art/theater/music.

Education and gender seemed to affect people's answers, with respondents who had higher levels of education being less likely to choose math as the most valuable subject. Among respondents with postgraduate degrees, 19 percent mentioned math, compared with 43 percent of those with no more than a high-school education. English showed the opposite trend, increasing in perceived importance with higher levels of education.

"It could be that those with higher education levels are more likely to use written communication as a part of their jobs," Gallup noted in a statement.

Men were more likely than women to give math a top spot — 40 percent versus 28 percent, respectively — whereas English (which includes literature and reading) showed the opposite trend, as more women (29 percent) than men (13 percent) noted the subject as most valuable. Men were also more likely than women to mention science as most valuable.

"Americans may have a bit of a love-hate relationship with English and math, particularly math," the Gallup statement reads. When Americans were asked in 1989 for their favorite school subjects, math took the top spot (26 percent chose it); but in the same poll, math and English were tied as respondents' least favorite subject.

The poll results are based on phone interviews with a random sample of 2,059 Americans, ages 18 and over, from all 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. Results were weighted so they were nationally representative. In addition, respondents could look back at their entire educational history when gauging the value of subjects, including elementary, middle and high school, as well as college and postgraduate school.

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Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.