Women don't want to have an academic career

They have other preferences

Woman might have different preferences...

Laboratory evidence is clear: Women and men seem to have different preferences for risk and competition and the social preferences differ as well (Croson & Gneezy, 2009). However, these well-established findings in lab experiments are less pronounced in field experiments on labor market gender differences (Bertrand, 2011). Furthermore, it is difficult to come up with value judgments whether these differences are good or bad: Some evidence suggests that men should be less competitive and women should be more competitive (Niederle & Vesterlund, 2007). Exley and Kesser (2019) show in a laboratory experiment, that women exhibit a self-promotion gap when asked about their performance in an analytic task. Men showed a much higher level of self-promotion. Born et al. (2019) show that women are less likely to adopt leadership roles in male-dominated teams. They correctly anticipate that they will receive less support from team members in a leadership election. Also women, even at the top of their career, are less confident and more moderate in their answers than men when asked questions outside their field of experience (Sarsons & Xu, 2017). When focusing on confidence Reuben et al. 2012 show that more men were chosen as leaders, not because of their abilities but because they were overconfident in describing their abilities. Women were not.

Furthermore, recent literature sheds light on the question if the lower stated preferences of women for having a career are driven by the fact that ambitious women are penalized in private life for their ambition.

However, in the field of medicine, some survey studies show, that women do have similar career ambitions than men do. When it comes to academic medicine, their interest seems to be more focused on the research, rather than the teaching part of the job.

A study with students show that even career advice is different for male and female students that might influence their career choices. Female students were more dissuaded from their preferred career path than are male students, and this difference is in part explained by the greater emphasis on work/life balance to female students.

Croson, R., & Gneezy, U. (2009). Gender differences in preferences. Journal of Economic Literature, 47(2), 448-74.

The paper reviews the literature on gender differences in economic (mainly laboratory) experiments until 2009. The authors identify robust differences in risk preferences, social (other-regarding) preferences, and competitive preferences for men and women: Women are indeed more risk-averse than men. Social preferences of women are more situationally specific than those of men, however women are neither more nor less socially oriented, but their social preferences are more malleable. Finally, women are more averse to competition than are men.

Bertrand, M. (2011). New perspectives on gender. In Handbook of Labor Economics (Vol. 4, pp. 1543-1590). Elsevier.

This paper reviews literature on possible explanations for gender differences in labor market outcomes. First, the paper describes the (mainly) laboratory-based evidence regarding gender differences in risk preferences, in attitudes towards competition, in the strength of other-regarding preferences, and in attitudes towards negotiation. Afterward, the author reviews the research that has tried to quantify the relevance of these factors in explaining gender differences in labor market outcomes outside of the laboratory setting. Also, the author describes recent research on the relationship between social and gender identity norms and women’s labor market choices and outcomes, as well as on the role of child-rearing practices in explaining gender identity norms. Finally, the paper reports on work documenting puzzling trends in women’s well-being —despite decades of educational gains and an unambiguous enlargement of their set of labor market opportunities, women’s self-reported levels of life satisfaction appear to have declined over time, both in absolute terms and relative to men’s. The author concludes that while the laboratory evidence shows in many cases large gender differences (say, in attitudes towards risk, or attitudes towards competition), most of the existing attempts to measure the impact of these factors on actual outcomes fail to find large effects.

Niederle, M., & Vesterlund, L. (2007). Do women shy away from competition? Do men compete too much?. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 122(3), 1067-1101.

Laboratory experiment in the U.S. with 40 male and 40 female participants. The researchers examine whether men and women of the same ability differ in their selection into a competitive environment. Participants in a laboratory experiment solve a real task, first under a noncompetitive piece rate and then a competitive tournament incentive scheme. Although there are no gender differences in performance, men select the tournament twice as much as women when choosing their compensation scheme for the next performance. While 73 percent of the men select the tournament, only 35 percent of the women make this choice. This gender gap in tournament entry is not explained by performance, and factors such as risk and feedback aversion only play a negligible role. Instead, the tournament entry gap is driven by men being more overconfident and by gender differences in preferences for performing in a competition: When compare the choices of men and women of equal performance to payoff-maximizing choices, low-ability men enter the tournament too much, and high-ability women do not enter it enough.

Born, A., Ranehill, E., & Sandberg, A. (2019). A Man's World? The Impact of a Male Dominated Environment on Female Leadership. The Impact of a Male Dominated Environment on Female Leadership (March 2019).

Laboratory experiment (n=580 participants in 145 teams) testing how male dominated environments affect women's willingness to lead a team. The experiment shows that women randomly assigned to male majority teams are less willing to become team leaders than women assigned to female majority teams. Analyses of potential mechanisms show that women in male majority teams are less confident in their relative performance, less influential, and more swayed by others in team discussions. Women also (accurately) believe that they will receive less support from team members in a leadership election. Taken together, the results indicate that the absence of women in male dominated contexts may be a self-reinforcing process.

Sarsons, H., & Xu, G. (2017). Confidence Men? Evidence among Top Economists. Discussion Paper

Survey data form economists working in top U.S. universities (n=51) is exploited to answer the question if a confidence gap exist between men and women who made it to the top of their careers? The authors find that women are less confident than men along two margins: When asked about their level of agreement on survey questions about the economy, women are less likely to give “extreme” answers in which they strongly agree or disagree. Women are also less confident in the accuracy of their answer. Evidence suggests that the confidence gap is driven by women being less confident when asked questions outside their field of expertise.

Reuben, E., Rey-Biel, P., Sapienza, P., & Zingales, L. (2012). The emergence of male leadership in competitive environments. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 83(1), 111-117.

Lab experiment with U.S. students (n=120 ) in which groups select a leader to compete against the leaders of other groups in a real-effort task that they have all performed in the past. The study finds that women are selected much less often as leaders than is suggested by their individual past performance. Three potential explanations for the under-representation of women, gender differences in overconfidence concerning past performance, in the willingness to exaggerate past performance to the group, and in the reaction to monetary incentives are studied. The experimental design allows to isolate the potential effect of each of the three gender differences in order to explain why groups fail to select female leaders. The experiment was carried out with subjects who had already performed the real-effort task 15 months before participating in the current experiment. Therefore the researchers were able to ask subjects, using an incentive compatible procedure, to recollect their past performance. If there is a gender difference in the recollection of past performance and groups are unaware of it, then low-ability but overconfident men will end up being chosen over high-ability but under-confident women. In addition to remembering their past performance, subjects were asked to make known to their groups what their expected performance is, although their statements did not have to be truthful. For groups to make the best decision, individuals must truthfully reveal their true ability to others. Therefore, if there is a gender difference in the willingness of individuals to exaggerate their own ability (e.g., compared to women, men might dislike revealing they have a low ability, or they might be more willing to lie and overstate their own abilities) then groups could end up selecting low-ability men that claim to be high-ability over high-ability women that do not overstate (or even understate) their ability. Finally, an agency problem was introduced by giving an additional financial incentive to the individuals who are selected as leaders. If, compared to women, men react more to the monetary incentive (and are willing to lie about their ability), then one ought to see less women as chosen to represent their group in treatments where the additional payment is large.

The authors find that the under-representation of women is mainly driven by men being overconfident when they recall their own ability. Once subjects of both genders have recalled their performance, they do not overstate their performance differently in order to be picked as the group leader. Finally, although higher economic incentives do induce subjects to overstate their performance, they have a similar effect on both men and women.

Exley, C. L., & Kessler, J. B. (2019). The Gender Gap in Self-Promotion (No. w26345). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Laboratory experiment with about 900 participants testing if a gender gap in self promotion exists. This might be of importance as in job applications, job interviews, performance reviews, and a wide range of other environments, individuals are explicitly asked or implicitly invited to assess their own performance. In a series of experiments, the authors find that women rate their performance less favorably than equally performing men. This gender gap in self-promotion is notably persistent. It stays just as strong when the experiment was altered to that gender differences in confidence about performance were eliminated as well as strategic incentives to engage in self-promotion.

The subjects had to first perform an analytical task. No gender difference in performance was found here. Women’s responses to the self-assessment questions suggest they performed less well than the men. The effects are large. For example, when asked to indicate their agreement on a scale from 0 to 100 with a statement that reads “I performed well on the test,” the average woman reports her performance as being 15 points lower out of 100 than the average man. That is, the average man rates himself a 61 out of 100 and the average women rates herself 25% lower, a 46 out of 100, despite the fact that the average performer in both groups answered 10 out of 20 questions correctly.

The authors show that the gender gap in self-promotion is not driven by a gender gap in confidence. The authors first observe a gender gap in confidence, as measured by participants’ beliefs in the number of questions they answered correctly. However, the self-promotion gap persists when the authors provide participants with perfect information about their absolute and relative performance. Women still engage in less self-promotion than men, even when both are told that they answered the same number of questions correctly and both are told their exact place in the relative distribution (e.g., when both are told that they answered 15 out of 20 questions correctly and that their score was better than 80%, and worse than 12%, of prior participants).

De Paola, M., Lombardo, R., Pupo, V., & Scoppa, V. (2020). Do Women Shy Away from Public Speaking? A Field Experiment. Discussion paper

The authors run a field experiment (n=520) to analyze whether in an incentivized setting men and women show differences in their willingness to speak in public. The experiment involved more than 500 undergraduate students who could gain two points to add to the final grade of their exam by orally presenting solutions to a problem set. Students were randomly assigned to present only to the instructor or in front of a large audience (a class of 100 or more). The authors find that while women are more willing to present face-to-face, they are considerably less likely to give a public presentation. Female aversion to public speaking does not depend on differences in ability, risk aversion, self-confidence and self-esteem. The aversion to public speaking greatly reduces for daughters of working women. From data obtained through an on-line survey thea also show that neither increasing the gains deriving from public speaking nor allowing participants more time to prepare enable to close the gender gap.

Bursztyn, L., Fujiwara, T., & Pallais, A. (2017). 'Acting Wife': Marriage Market Incentives and Labor Market Investments. American Economic Review, 107(11), 3288-3319.

Field experiment in an elite U.S. Master of Business Administration Programme (n=355). Do single women avoid career-enhancing actions because these actions signal undesirable traits, like ambition, to the marriage market? Single female students reported lower desired salaries and willingness to travel and work long hours on a real-stakes placement questionnaire when they expected their classmates to see their preferences: When single women expected their classmates to see their answers, they reported desired compensation $18,000 per year lower. They said they would be willing to travel seven fewer days per month and work four fewer hours per week. They also reported significantly lower levels of professional ambition and a tendency for leadership. Neither non-single women nor men, regardless of their relationship status, changed their answers when they expected their peers to observe their choices. A second experiment indicates the effects are driven by observability by single male peers.

Cheng, S. D. (2020). Careers Versus Children: How Childcare Affects the Academic Tenure-Track Gender Gap.

US study of about 8000 biological science Ph.Ds. surveyed in the National Science Foundation's Survey of Earned Doctorateslinked to the 1993-2015 waves of the Survey of Doctorate Recipients (SDR). Although women compose the majority of biological science Ph.D. recipients, those who have children are 7 percentage points less likely than their male peers to ever obtain a tenure-track position - leading to a mere 30 percent female among tenure-track faculty. Using the largest nationally representative survey of U.S. Ph.D. recipients, the paper examines how a biological science Ph.D.’s first child’s birth affects employment status and job characteristics by gender. The author finds no gender gap in tenure-track rates among individuals who never have children and among individuals before they have children. 9 percent of mothers temporarily leave the labor force after their first child is born; those who remain reduce working hours by 12 percent, compared to fathers who reduce by 6 percent. Mothers return to the labor force when their children reach school-age but shift away from tenure-track positions, leading to a 10 percentage point gender gap among tenure-track faculty with six-year-old children. However, mothers do not leave research occupations with fewer work hours, such as industry and non-tenure track positions. The author concludes that short-term work reductions to focus on childcare combined with a competitive profession requiring long hours leads to long-term reductions in promotions, increasing the gender gap at the top levels of academia.

...but the social norm to "acting wife" might be a reasons for this

Bursztyn et al. (2017) state:

"Single women may thus face a trade-off: actions that lead to professional success might be sanctioned in the marriage market because they signal ambition and assertiveness. For example, while volunteering for leadership roles or asking for a promotion might help women’s careers, they may also send negative signals to the marriage market. This trade-off can be pervasive and is not limited to large, discrete decisions. Daily activities such as speaking up in meetings, taking charge of a project, working late, or even certain outfits, haircuts, and makeup can be desirable in one market and not in the other. Hiding career-enhancing actions from potential partners may be challenging for single women: it is likely difficult to hide working late or traveling for work, for example. Moreover, the workplace is the most common place to meet a partner. Similar to minority students who shy away from educational investments to avoid “acting white” and improve their standing with peers, single women might try to improve their marriage options by “acting wife".”

The trade off between career success and private life for women is addressed in several papers. Some are presented below. They all have in common that men seem to shy away from intelligent, better educated, more ambitious female partners or women earning more. Being able to establish causal effects in a real-world setting, Folke and Rickne (2016) show that furthermore that promotions to top jobs dramatically increase women's probability of divorce, but do not affect men's marriages,

Hitsch, G. J., Hortaçsu, A., & Ariely, D. (2010). Matching and sorting in online dating. American Economic Review, 100(1), 130-63.

The paper studies the economics of match formation using a dataset obtained from a major online dating service (n=5,787) in Boston and San Diego. With a regression model, they find that regarding education, both men and women want to meet a partner with a similar education level. While women have an overall strong preference for an educated partner, but also have a relatively small tendency to avoid men who are more educated than themselves, men generally shy away from educated women.

Fisman, R., Iyengar, S. S., Kamenica, E., & Simonson, I. (2006). Gender differences in mate selection: Evidence from a speed dating experiment. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 121(2), 673-697.

Field "speed dating" experiment (n=200) at an U.S. university testing gender differences in mate selection. The design of the study allows to directly observe individual decisions rather than just final matches. Women put greater weight on the intelligence and the race of partner, while men respond more to physical attractiveness. Moreover, men do not value women’s intelligence or ambition when it exceeds their own. Also, the authors find that women exhibit a preference for men who grew up in affluent neighborhoods.

Bertrand, M., Kamenica, E., & Pan, J. (2015). Gender identity and relative income within households. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 130(2), 571-614.

With U.S. data on household income the authors examine causes and consequences of relative income within households. They show that the distribution of the share of income earned by the wife exhibits a sharp drop to the right of 1/2, where the wife’s income exceeds the husband’s income. This pattern might be best explained by gender identity norms, which induce an aversion to a situation where the wife earns more than her husband. The authors present evidence that this aversion also impacts marriage formation, the wife’s labor force participation, the wife’s income conditional on working, marriage satisfaction, likelihood of divorce, and the division of home production. Within marriage markets, when a randomly chosen woman becomes more likely to earn more than a randomly chosen man, marriage rates decline. In couples where the wife’s potential income is likely to exceed the husband’s, the wife is less likely to be in the labor force and earns less than her potential if she does work. In couples where the wife earns more than the husband, the wife spends more time on household chores; moreover, those couples are less satisfied with their marriage and are more likely to divorce. These patterns hold both cross-sectionally and within couples over time.

Folke, O., & Rickne, J. (2016). All the single ladies: Job promotions and the durability of marriage (No. 1146). IFN Working Paper

Swedish study on CEO and politicians promotions and divorce rates based on Swedish register data. Being able to identifying causal effects. the authors show that promotions to top jobs dramatically increase women's probability of divorce, but do not affect men's marriages. The effect is causally estimated for top jobs in the political sector, where close electoral results deliver exogenous variation in promotions across job candidates. Descriptive evidence from job promotions to the position of CEO shows that private sector promotions result in the same gender inequality in the risk of divorce. A description of male and female job candidates' household formations sheds some light on the mechanism behind this result. For most male candidates for top jobs, their promotion aligns with the gender-specialized division of paid and unpaid labor in their households. Many female candidates for top jobs live in dual-earner households and are married to older husbands who take a small share of parental leave. Divorce among women in top jobs occurs more often in couples with a larger age gap and a less equal division of leave, and in households in which her promotion shifts the division of earnings (further) away from the norm of male dominance. No divorce effect is found in couples that are more gender-equal in terms of having a smaller age gap and a more equal division of parental leave. The authors argue that norms and behavior in the marriage market hinder the closure of the gender gap in the labor market.

Egebark, J., Ekström, M., Plug, E., & Van Praag, M. (2021). Brains or beauty? Causal evidence on the returns to education and attractiveness in the online dating market. Journal of Public Economics, 196, 104372

We study partner preferences for education and attractiveness by conducting a field experiment in a large online dating market. Fictitious profiles with manipulated levels of education and photo attractiveness send random invitations for a serious relationship to real online daters. We find that men and women prefer attractive over unattractive profiles, regardless of own attractiveness. We also find that high-educated men prefer low-educated over high-educated profiles as much as high-educated women prefer high-educated over low-educated profiles. With preferences similar for attractiveness but opposite for education, two groups are more likely to stay single: unattractive, low-educated men and unattractive, high-educated women.

And some studies show that the differences are not so large at all

Jones, R. D., Griffith, K. A., Ubel, P. A., Stewart, A., & Jagsi, R. (2016). A mixed-methods investigation of the motivations, goals, and aspirations of male and female academic medical faculty. Academic Medicine, 91(8), 1089-1097.

US study in which the authors qualitatively analyzed interviews with 100 former recipients of National Institutes of Health career development awards and 28 of their mentors. They also compared survey responses of 1,267 clinician–investigators who received these awards, using logistic regression to evaluate gender differences after adjusting for other characteristics. Interview participants described relatively consistent career goals, including scientific contribution and desire to positively affect lives through research, clinical care, and teaching. For many, the specific ways they sought to achieve and measure goal attainment evolved over time. Survey respondents endorsed a goal of publishing high-quality research with highest frequency (97.3%, no significant gender difference). Women were more likely to endorse the importance of balancing work and other activities (95.5% vs. 90.5%, P < .001). There were no significant gender differences in the importance of patient care (86.6%), teaching (71.6%), or publishing prolifically (64.9%). Men were more likely than women to consider salary (49.4% vs. 41.8%, P < .001), reputation (84.2% vs. 77.6%, P = .004), and leadership positions (38.9% vs. 34.3%, P = .03) important. In this elite research-oriented sample, gender differences in initial aspirations were generally limited. Gender differences in career outcomes in such groups are unlikely to exclusively result from different baseline aspirations. The authors conclude that goals appear to evolve in response to challenges experienced.

Edmunds, L.D., Ovseiko, P.V., Shepperd, S., Greenhalgh, T., Frith, P., Roberts, N.W., Pololi, L.H. & Buchan, A. M. (2016). Why do women choose or reject careers in academic medicine? A narrative review of empirical evidence. The Lancet, 388(10062), 2948-2958.

The authors used a systematic search and identified 52 studies on the reasons for women's choice or rejection of careers in academic medicine published between 1985, and 2015. More than half had methodological limitations and most were from North America. Eight main themes were explored in these studies. There was consistent evidence for four of these themes: women are interested in teaching more than in research; participation in research can encourage women into academic medicine; women lack adequate mentors and role models; and women experience gender discrimination and bias. The evidence was conflicting on four themes: women are less interested in research than men; women lose commitment to research as their education and training progress; women are deterred from academic careers by financial considerations; and women are deterred by concerns about work–life balance. Inconsistency of findings across studies suggests significant opportunities to overcome barriers by providing a more enabling environment. The authors identified substantial gaps in the scientific literature that could form the focus of future research, including shifting the focus from individuals' career choices to the societal and organisational contexts and cultures within which those choices are made; extending the evidence base to include a wider range of countries and settings; and testing the efficacy of interventions.

Gallen, Y., & Wasserman, M. (2020). Informed Choices: Gender Gaps in Career Advice. Discussion paper

Study at US universities with N=76 students who contacted 7,602 professionals. The paper estimates gender differences in access to informal information regarding the labor market. The authors conduct a large-scale field experiment in which real college students seek information from working professionals about various career paths, and they randomize whether a professional receives a message from a male or a female student. The authors focus the experimental design and analysis on two career attributes that prior research has shown to differentially affect the labor market choices of women: the extent to which a career accommodates work/life balance and has a competitive culture. When students ask broadly for information about a career, they find that female students receive substantially more information on work/life balance relative to male students. This gender difference persists when students disclose that they are concerned about work/life balance. In contrast, professionals mention workplace culture to male and female students at similar rates. After the study, female students are more dissuaded from their preferred career path than are male students, and this difference is in part explained by the greater emphasis on work/life balance to female students. Since the experimental design incorporates real students, the authors are able to elicit students’ preferences for professionals and assess whether average gender differences in information provision are attenuated by students’ choices of whom to contact. The findings suggest that gender differences in information provision persist after accounting for student selection of professionals.