The amount of perceived gender bias present within a major is the primary deciding factor for women in selecting their major, according to a new study.
A 2017 study from the American Educational Research Fund, titled “Gender Equity in College Majors: Looking Beyond the STEM/Non-STEM Dichotomy for Answers Regarding Female Participation,” is one of the first extensive attempts to study the issue of gender disparities within college majors outside of a STEM versus non-STEM framework.
Instead, the study looked at students’ perceptions of the characteristics of college majors. This approach was taken because there can be variance in which majors are considered STEM. In addition, some majors are interdisciplinary and students can have more than one major. It also helped in examining the gender disparities within different STEM majors.
The researchers administered a survey to 330 undergraduate students asking them to rank 20 majors on how closely they perceived them being related to math, related to science, gender-biased, helpful to society, high-paying or creative.
STEM majors ranked highly on the math-oriented scale, the science-oriented scale or on both. Engineering and physical sciences ranked highly in both math and science orientation, while other majors like computer science, architecture and mathematics ranked higher in math than science.