The Gender Gap in STEM Majors: Evidence on the Gender Belief Hypothesis from Taiwan

Friday, July 18, 2014: 11:20 AM
Room: F201
Oral Presentation
Tony TAM , Department of Sociology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Yuk Leong HUNG , Sociology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Why are women underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields in college and work? Drawing on an unprecedented range of survey datasets, Xie and Shauman (2003) rejected many common explanations (such as gender difference in math ability and the pipeline hypothesis) for the gender difference in college majors. Survey-based research has yet to explain much of the gender gap. Drawing on experimental studies, Ridgeway and Smith-Lovin (1999) develop a concept called cultural beliefs in gender (gender beliefs). Using survey data to corroborate the experimental results, Correll (2001) argues that gender beliefs result in biased math self-assessment (MSA) and MSA explains why females are underrepresented in quantitative majors. Yet, upon close scrutiny, her results actually show that MSA is at best a minor source of the gender gap. Interestingly, Cech (2011) shows that professional role confidence, as a form of gender beliefs, can explain the gender gap in persistence through engineering majors in college. This seems to indicate the causal importance of some gendered cultural and psychological mechanisms may well be at play.

This study re-examines whether gender beliefs can explain why more men choose the science track in senior high school and STEM majors in college. We draw on the core panel of the Taiwan Education Panel Survey (TEPS), a large and representative sample of first year junior high school students in 2001. In general, students’ gender beliefs early in high school explain a minor portion of the gender differences but parents’ gender beliefs when children were early in high school explain substantially more—about a half of the gender gaps. Taken together, the two beliefs explain most of the gender differences and the residual gender gaps become insignificant. For the first time, then, survey-based results can provide a simple and direct confirmation of the gender belief hypothesis.