Gender Differences in the Formation of a Field of Study Choice Set

Sigal Alon, Thomas A. DiPrete

Sociological Science, February 18, 2015
DOI 10.15195/v2.a5

Women now surpass men in overall rates of college graduation in many industrialized countries, but sex segregation in fields of study persists. In a world where gender norms have changed but gender stereotypes remain strong, we argue that men’s and women’s attitudes and orientations toward fields of study in college are less constrained by gendered institutions than is the ranking of these fields. Accordingly, the sex segregation in the broader choice set of majors considered by college applicants may be lower than the sex segregation in their first preference field of study selection. With unique data on the broader set of fields considered by applicants to elite Israeli universities, we find support for this theory. The factors that drive the gender gap in the choice of field of study, in particular labor market earnings, risk aversion, and the sex composition of fields, are weaker in the broad set of choices than in the first choice. The result is less segregation in considered majors than in the first choice and, more broadly, different gender patterns in the decision process for the set of considered majors and for the first choice. We consider the theoretical implications of these results.
Sigal Alon: Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Tel Aviv University.  Email:

Thomas A. DiPrete: Department of Sociology, Columbia University.    Email:

  • Citation: Alon, Sigal, and Thomas A. Diprete. 2015. “Gender Differences in the Formation of a Field Study Choice Set.” Sociological Science 2: 50-81.
  • Received: July 9, 2014
  • Accepted: September 16, 2014
  • Editors: Jesper Sørensen,  Kim Weeden
  • DOI: 10.15195/v2.a5

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