Telling Students to Follow Their Dreams May Contribute to the Persisting Gender Gap in STEM

A recent study led by the University of Washington has discovered that encouraging students to follow their dreams may be contributing to the gender gap in STEM fields and the lingering historic gender norms that persist in the United States.

The research team identified three different types of ideologies that influence student’s decision-making in choosing their college majors: “follow-your-passions,” associated with personal interests and happiness; “resources,”  aligned with sensibility and future job security; and” communal,” associated with opportunities for nurturing and supporting others. In a survey of 531 undergraduate students, the authors presented the participants with all three ideologies and asked them to weigh the importance of each type of advice in choosing their major. The results showed no gender difference in how men and women were influenced by “follow-your-passions” or “resources” advice, but women were more likely to follow “communal” advice.

In the study’s second phase, the authors asked a sample of students about their interest in an engineering major after hearing “follow-your-passions” advice, and again after hearing “resources” advice. Women were significantly less likely than men to show interest in engineering after receiving “follow-your-passion” advice, but upon receiving “resources” advice, the gender gap narrowed, with more women expressing interest in engineering. The authors uncovered similar results in a third experiment with adult participants, where women were less likely to associate STEM or other male-dominated fields with the “follow-your-passions” ideology.

The authors think these results showcase an opportunity to introduce children to toys, activities, and hobbies that are not historically associated with their socialized gender norms. Additionally, they suggest adjustments in college course requirements that expose both men and women-dominated fields to students of all genders, thereby introducing them to topics they normally would not have pursued on their own.

Filed Under: Gender GapResearch/StudySTEM Fields


RSSComments (0)

Leave a Reply