Girls emerge from the anxiety-ridden adolescent years with less self-esteem than boys, often resulting in girls' later disinterest in math and science, a survey released Wednesday found.

The American Association of University Women commissioned a study of 3,000 fourth- through 10th-graders to examine the differences in attitudes between boys' and girls' perceptions of themselves and their futures.The key finding was that as boys and girls grow older, they both experience a loss of self-esteem in a variety of areas. However, the loss is most dramatic and has the most long-lasting effect for girls, affecting their career choices. The association calls it a "self-esteem gap."

"Girls are being left out and left behind in school," said Sharon Schuster, president of the American Association of University Women. "America cannot compete with only half its team on the field."

Girls, ages 8 and 9, feel assertive, confident and authoritative about themselves, the survey found. But after the adolescent years - ages 10-15 - girls generally have a poor self-image, constrained views of their future and their place in society, and much less confidence about themselves and their abilities.

"As girls and boys go through adolescence, both experience traumatic physical changes, and their perceptions of those changes are central to patterns of self-esteem," the survey said.

For instance, boys tend to view the physical changes positively, as getting bigger and stronger. Girls believe their changes lead in a negative direction, reinforcing their declining self-esteem and gender stereotypes, the survey said.

The gaps in self-esteem are pronounced in students' enthusiasm for math and science. Most kids in elementary school like math and science, the survey found, but the interest drops precipitously as they get older.