Women are not interested in STEM —

They have other passions

Descriptive statistics show that women do choose different academic disciplines than men do. Although the share of female academics by discipline varies considerably across countries, it is difficult to find causal explanations why women choose the disciplines they do. It seems to be even paradoxical that nations that have traditionally less gender equality have more women in science and technology than their gender-progressive counterparts*. (Stoet, G., & Geary, D. C. (2018). The gender-equality paradox in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. Psychological science, 29(4), 581-593. ) Do women have different interests than men? Do social norms force them in certain directions? One recent study conducts two field experiments on occupational choice of women and show that identity considerations act as barriers to entering in the technology sector. Another recent study focuses on persisting or switching to other fields of studies finding that women in STEM, business, and economics fields do exhibit relatively stronger sensitivity to grades in their decisions about persisting or switching to another field, which in part helps explain their lower representation among graduates in these areas. Focusing on the difference between major preferences and major choice, Quadlin shows that men and women choose very different majors even when they cite the same major preferences.

*The paradox is resolved nicely in the paper and here.

Del Carpio, L., & Guadalupe, M. (2018). More women in tech? Evidence from a field experiment addressing social identity. IZA discussion paper

Two field experiments with potential applicants to a five-month software-coding program offered to women from low income backgrounds in Peru and Mexico. The authors investigate whether social identity considerations—through beliefs and norms—drive women’s occupational choices. When the perception that women cannot succeed in technology is corrected by providing role models, information on returns and access to a female network, application rates double and the self-selection patterns change. Analysis of those patterns suggests that identity considerations act as barriers to entering the technology sector and that some high-cognitive skill women do not apply because of their high identity costs.

Kaganovich, M., Taylor, M. & Xiao, R. (2019). Gender Differences in Persistence in a Field of Study. Discussion Paper.

U.S. study with a dataset of about 50,000 undergraduate students academic activity and demographics. After conditioning on a student’s starting academic field, the authors estimate the gender effect on students’ academic paths in terms of the likelihood of persistence in their original academic area or switching to a particular academic alternative. This analysis supports the conjectures that women in STEM, business, and economics fields do exhibit relatively stronger sensitivity to grades in their decisions about persisting or switching to another field, which in part helps explain their lower representation among graduates in these areas. The significant new finding is that the conclusion about women’s greater sensitivity to grades is specific to the aforementioned fields of study and does not universally extend to other starting academic disciplines. The authors find, in particular, that in the social sciences and humanities category, women demonstrate either equal or higher levels of persistence across various grade levels, relative to men. These empirical results suggest that stronger sensitivity to grades, rather than being a gender-specific phenomenon, is more likely to reflect gender differences in the underlying preferences for academic fields. The authors further demonstrate the plausibility of this conclusion by means of theoretical analysis of a model of student choices of academic concentrations. An important takeaway from the results is that it is one’s weaker underlying preference for a field of study that is likely to make a student more “sensitive” to grades received in it, rather than the other way around. This is contrary to a commonly suggested understanding that it is the underlying stronger sensitivity to grades that makes students possessing such characteristic less attached to “tougher” grading fields.

Quadlin, N. (2019). From Major Preferences to Major Choices: Gender and Logics of Major Choice. Sociology of Education.

U.S. study with a dataset (N=2,639) of male and female students showing their major preferences and major choices. Generally, research shows that college students choose majors for a variety of reasons. Some students are motivated by potential economic returns, others want to take engaging classes, and others still would like opportunities to help people in their jobs. But how do these preferences map onto students’ actual major choices? This question is particularly intriguing in light of gender differences in fields of study, as men and women may take divergent pathways in pursuit of the same outcome. The study uses data from the Pathways through College Study. The author shows that men and women choose very different majors even when they cite the same major preferences—the paper refers to this as gendered logics of major choice.

Major preferences students often cite—potential amount of money earned, employability, intellectual engagement, and opportunities to help others—are often associated with different major choices by gender. One source of common ground for men and women is their perceptions of majors that will lead to strong economic returns. Among students who place a premium on earnings, both men and women are more likely to choose majors such as business and engineering. This may seem like a potentially important pattern in terms of recruiting women to STEM fields, but there are two main counterpoints to keep in mind: First, men place more emphasis on extrinsic rewards than do women—so even if women associate STEM with high earnings, this is a relatively small component of many women’s major choices. Prior research shows that women deemphasize earnings, at least in part because many high-paying jobs entail long hours and poor flexibility. Second, men frequently cite other reasons for choosing STEM majors that do not necessarily emerge for women. Men are more likely to choose physics/math when they want to keep their career options open, and men are more likely to choose engineering when they want to take engaging classes. These patterns suggest men’s logics of major choice point them toward STEM fields more often than women’s, which echoes prior research on gender and STEM. Men tend to perceive and experience the benefits associated with STEM fields, whereas women tend to perceive and experience the constraints these fields can impose, both in higher education and in the workplace.

In addition, perceptions of altruistic rewards are distinctly related to major choice, particularly for women. Women who prioritize altruism are increasingly likely to major in biology/premedicine, social sciences, education, and health. Notably, all of these majors are female dominated. This congruence between helping others and major choice suggests altruistic rewards are at the forefront of many women’s major choices. This is not a new observation; many scholars have noted women’s tendency to choose majors and careers that will give them opportunities to help other people as well as these fields’ greater receptiveness toward women. But this is a noteworthy pattern because no other criterion, for men or women, aligns with major choice to the same extent as women’s preference for altruistically oriented fields.

In addition, the paper uses earnings data from the American Community Survey to assess how these gendered logics of major choice may be associated with broader patterns of earnings inequality. The author finds that among men and women who have the same major preferences, men’s major choices are tied to significantly higher prospective earnings than women’s major choices. This finding demonstrates that the ways men and women translate their preferences into majors are unequal from an earnings perspective.

Avitzour, E., Choen, A., Joel, D., & Lavy, V. (2020). On the Origins of Gender-Biased Behavior: The Role of Explicit and Implicit Stereotypes (No. w27818). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Experiment with 93 math teachers in Israel grading fith graders paper. The authors assessed the gender-biased behavior and related explicit and implicit stereotypes of 93 math teachers (88 women, 5 men) to identify the psychological origins of such discrimination. The authors asked the teachers to grade math exam papers and assess the students’ capabilities while manipulating the perceived gender of the students to capture gender-biased grading and assessment behavior. The authors also measured the teachers’ implicit and explicit stereotypes regarding math, gender, and talent. The study found that implicit, but not explicit, gender stereotypes correlated with grading and assessment behavior. They also found that participants who underestimated their own implicit stereotypes engaged in more pro-male discrimination compared to those who overestimated or accurately estimated them. Reducing implicit gender stereotypes and exposing individuals to their own implicit biases may be beneficial in promoting gender equality in STEM fields.

Jansson, J., & Tyrefors, B. (2020). The Genius is a Male: Stereotypes and Same-Sex Bias in Exam Grading in Economics at Stockholm University (No. 1362).

The authors made use of the random allocation of graders to different exam questions at Stockholm University to evaluate the existence of same-sex bias in exam correction. They find evidence of same-sex bias before anonymous exams were introduced. Notably, once anonymous grading was in place, the effect disappears. When separating the effects by grader´s sex, both groups of graders favor male students, although male graders favor male students to a larger extent than female graders. Again, after anonymous grading was introduced, the effect disappears. There is no evidence of compositional changes across the pre-and post-anonymous grading regimes. In sum, the finding is consistent with theories of stereotyping, e.g., the genius being male.

[Add more of the grading discrimination literature here]