Georgetown University Study Examines Why Women Transfer Out of STEM Majors

A new study led by researchers at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., explores reason why women who start out in STEM fields in college are more likely than men to transfer to non-STEM majors. The study found that women who are threatened by the prospect of low grades, are in fields with a low number of women peers, and are subjected to stereotypes that they are unlikely to succeed, are likely to switch majors. The authors found that women are not likely to switch fields if faced by one or two of these factors. Only when all three factors are present are women likely to transfer to another field, according to the research.

Adrianna D. Kugler, a professor in the School of Public Policy at Georgetown and the lead author of the study, explains that “if female students believe that men are inherently a better fit for STEM majors, and those female students also see their numerical minority status, they are more likely to perceive their low grades as confirmation about their unfitness for their male-dominated STEM major.”

“This study gets us a little closer to understanding the dynamic complex signals that lead to decisions about a major field of study, by showing that young women will stay in STEM majors if they aren’t deterred by a triple signal of lack of fit,” Dr. Kugler adds. “Understanding why women and men graduate with different majors is critical for understanding their future occupational opportunities and, ultimately, the gender wage gap.”

Dr. Kugler joined the faculty at Georgetown University in 2010 after teaching at the University of Houston. Professor Kugler is a graduate of McGill University in Montreal, where she majored in economics and political science. She earned a Ph.D. in economics at the University of California, Berkeley.

The study, a working paper of the National Bureau of Economics Research, is entitled “Choice of Majors: Are Women Really Different Than Men?” It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/StudySTEM Fields


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