Research in the Disciplines: College!
Gender Segregation: from College to the Workforce
My topic tackles gender segregation. How it begins in college with gender-influenced choices of major, which ultimately determine career trajectory, and result in the and results in a historically persistent, sex segregated workforce. In specific regard to college major choice, my paper will begin by analyzing the factors that influence college major choice, for both male and female students. How have their subject interests and preferences been guided. From here, I will begin to focus on the influences that specifically affect female students and their career trajectory, as I discuss the constraint, culturally-rooted stereotypes and gender role expectations put on the professional development of women. In this discussion, I will examine the influences of social class and gender role expectations on female students, that direct their academic and professional paths. My paper will seek to identify the root causes of sex segregation in college major choice and onward. Specifically, my paper will aim to identify the factors that influence women’s professional development, from college, into their perspective careers. I hope my paper does well to discuss the startling prevalence of gender segregation today, and bring about more understanding of the issue.
The historical persistence of gender role expectations and stereotypes cannot be discounted, but what societal influences can we concretely attribute sex segregation in college major choice, and consequently the work force, to?
Theoretical Frame or Approach
Social scientists suggest several different theories to better explain, and account for, sex segregation in college major choice. One of which is referred to as “gender essentialism”, which centers on the influence of gender stereotypes. Essentialism theory regards college major choice as “an instance where individuals behave in accordance with societal expectations of what constitutes gender-appropriate behavior,” (Ochsenfeld, 119). This theory suggests that we, as a culture, cultivate gender stereotypes and expectations, and instill them in children at a young age which guides their development of interests and self-concept. In this self-fluffing prophecy, male and female students develop interest and aptitude in gender-typical fields, and gravitate in those directions. Essentialism does well to account for sex segregation in college major choice, and consequently in the workforce.
Another theory proposed by social scientists is referred to as “separate spheres”, which attributes sex segregation to household division of labor. Historically, men and women have assumed different roles in the family unit. The stereotypical, household gender role expectations include a male breadwinner and female house-wife, in charge of childrearing and taking care of the home. This theory resides on the basis that children internalize the gender roles they see in their own households, and seek to replicate them in their own futures. “Separate Spheres does well to explain why male and female undergraduate students would pursue different majors based on the influence of gender stereotypes. Male students feel more pressure to pursue majors with higher pay grades and opportunities for career advancement because they feel they need to meet the societal expectation that they one day support a family. And women feel more pressure to pursue majors in fields that will accommodate work-life balance, to satisfy their future gender-typical role as a mother and housewife.
Because choice of college major greatly determines a person’s occupational trajectory, several studies have been done to evaluate what factors influence college major choice for male and female. “Influences on Students’ Choice of College Major,” an article written by several research specialists at Bentley College, surveyed undergraduate students to uncover some of the influences surrounding college major choice. Some of the factors examined in the study include general interest and aptitude in the subject, as well as potential for career advancement and level of compensation. Students were asked to rate these factors on a scale of 1 to 5; 1 being insignificant influence, and 5 being very influential and important. The results of the study indicated that although the majority of incoming freshman rated interest in the subject as the most important factor influencing their decision, there was a divergence in the extent to which male and female respondents rated the relative importance of other the factors. Results of the data proved a statistical difference in the influence of pay rate and potential for career advancement on male and female students, with male students ranking these factors significantly higher than their female counterparts. Conversely, female students rated aptitude in the subject, second to interest, as the most important factor influencing their college major choice. Here is an interesting proposed explanation to the growing gender segregation in the workforce. Male students are statistically more likely than female students to pursue majors in subject fields that provide more opportunities for future career advancement and higher wages, whereas female students more commonly choose majors based on general interest and aptitude in the subject field.
“Preferences, constraints, and the process of sex segregation in college majors: A choice analysis”, an article by Fabian Ochsenfeld, also seeks to examine the factors influencing college major choice. Specifically, factors of gender influence that may solely be affecting female student’s choice of majors. The article examines research conducted on a sample of college entrants in Germany to determine the level of influence gender stereotypes and expectations have on female students’ major selection process. Interestingly enough, their research produced results similar to those contributed by Malawi, Howe, and Burnaby in “Influences on Students’ Choice of College Major”. General interest in the subject matter was the greatest explanation for gendered major selection. Results did not indicate any concrete influence of gender stereotypes influencing college major choice. The extent to which students general subject interests have been influenced beyond their awareness, through societal or parental expectations, is a matter worth further investigation.Perhaps the investigation should be more so into how their interests been shaped, or guided, throughout their education history based on societally-rooted, gender role expectations.
I aim to further investigate the roles of societal influence, economic standings, and gender stereotypes in influencing students’ interest in gender-specific subject areas. How do these influences specifically affect women? If general subject interest is indeed a proven factor that determines college major choice, then what factors and influences guided these gender-specific interests? How have female students been guided towards predominantly female subject areas? What constraints do these gender role expectations, or gender norms, place on their development? I seek to better understand the factors contributing sex segregation in higher education, how these factors have developed, and to what degree do they potentially hinder the professional development of women.
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