Orientation vs. Behavior: Gender Differences in Field of Study Choice Set

Alon, Sigal; DiPrete, Thomas A.

Women now surpass men in overall rates of college graduation in many industrialized countries, but sex segregation in fields of study persists, even within STEM majors. In a world where gender norms have changed but gender stereotypes remain strong, we argue that attitudes and orientation towards behaviors are less constrained by gendered institutions than are the behaviors themselves. Accordingly, sex segregation in the broader choice set of majors considered by student applicants may be lower than the sex segregation in their first preference field of study selection (first choice). Over time, this may lead to diminishing sex segregation in higher education and the labor market. With unique data on the broader set of fields considered by STEM-bound applicants to elite Israeli universities, we find support for this theory. Moreover, the factors that drive the gender gap in the first choice, 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. We consider the theoretical implications of these results.


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October 29, 2013