The Consequences of the National Math and Science Performance Environment for Gender Differences in STEM Aspiration

Allison Mann, Thomas A. DiPrete

Sociological Science, July 12, 2016
DOI 10.15195/v3.a25

Abstract

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Using the lens of expectation states theory, which we formalize in Bayesian terms, this article examines the influences of national performance and self-assessment contexts on gender differences in the rate of aspiring to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) occupations. We demonstrate that girls hold themselves to a higher performance standard than do boys before forming STEM orientations, and this gender “standards gap” grows with the strength of a country’s performance environment. We also demonstrate that a repeatedly observed paradox in this literature—namely, that the STEM gender gap increases with a more strongly gender-egalitarian national culture—vanishes when the national performance culture is taken into account. Whereas other research has proposed theories to explain the apparent paradox as an empirical reality, we demonstrate that the empirical relationship is as expected; net of the performance environment, countries with a more gender-egalitarian culture have a smaller gender gap in STEM orientations. We also find, consistent with our theory, that the proportion of high-performing girls among STEM aspirants grows with the strength of the national performance environment even as the overall gender gap in STEM orientations grows because of offsetting behavior by students at the lower end of the performance distribution.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Allison Mann: Sociology Department, Columbia University
Email: alm2174@columbia.edu

Thomas A. DiPrete: Sociology Department, Columbia University
Email: tad61@columbia.edu

Acknowledgements: This project was supported by Award Number R01EB010584 from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering or the National Institutes of Health. We acknowledge helpful comments by Claudia Buchmann and Joscha Legewie.

  • Citation: Mann, Allison, and Thomas A. DiPrete. 2016. “The Consequences of the National Math and Science Performance Environment for Gender Differences in STEM Aspirations.” Sociological Science 3: 568-603.
  • Received: February 22, 2016
  • Accepted: March 31, 2016
  • Editors: Jesper Sørensen, Stephen Morgan
  • DOI: 10.15195/v3.a25

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