Study Finds That Perceived Discrimination in a Field Is Why College Women Avoid Some STEM Majors

A new study led by Colleen M. Ganley, an assistant professor of developmental psychology at Florida State University, finds that college women tend to shy away from certain STEM fields when selecting a major not because of apprehension about the rigors of mathematics or science but because of a perception that they will face discrimination if they pursue a career in those fields.

The researchers surveyed undergraduate students at a large Southeastern university in order to understand students’ perceptions of different college majors. Researchers classified 20 popular college majors based on the extent to which each major was perceived to exhibit each of six specific traits: math orientation, science orientation, gender bias against women, helpful orientation, money orientation, and creativity orientation. The results of the study suggest that, by far, the most predictive attribute of whether a woman chose a college major was the degree of discrimination perceived in the field.

Jospeh R. Cimpian, associate professor of economics and educational policy at New York University and co-author of the study, stated that “some people may find it unsurprising that perceived discrimination matters, but what is striking is just how much it matters and how little other factors matter. The relationships we find for perceived discrimination dwarf those of other predictive factors like the money orientation of the field. Similarly, the data does not support the notion that women are math-phobic or science-phobic, as some believe. Rather – and quite reasonably – women don’t like to be discriminated against.”

The full study, “Gender Equity in College Majors: Looking Beyond the STEM/Non-STEM Dichotomy for Answers Regarding Female Participation,” was published in the American Educational Research Journal. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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