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Cultural Barriers Discourage Women From Careers in Science, Study Reports

Update Date: Mar 26, 2013 11:11 AM EDT

Women tend to stray away from careers in science and technology due to cultural barriers and not because they are not qualified for the jobs that are usually male dominated. According to a new study, researchers concluded that women end up not going into the sciences because their intellectual abilities open up more career options, options that might not be as scrutinized by society. The researchers from the University of Pittsburgh observed how other factors, specifically gender barriers, influence women's career choices as well.

Ming-Te Wang and her research team looked at the compiled data of 1,500 students, who were considered to be above average intelligence and were planning on attending college. These participants were first interviewed when they were still attending high school in 1992 and resurveyed in 2007, when they reached 33-years-old. The researchers found that women generally scored higher than men in both the SAT verbal and math sections, a standardized test measuring intelligence. However, when it came to the specific sections, men tended to score higher than women in math, while women tended to score higher than men in verbal and language skills.

The researchers reported that two-thirds of the highest combined scores were women where as 37 percent of them were men. When the researchers looked at the separate sections of the test, they found that 70 percent of scores in which the math score was significantly higher than the verbal score belonged to men, where as the reverse can be found in women. Based from these numbers, the researchers found that 34 percent of the people who scored the best in all sections chose a career in science, technology, engineering, or medicine (STEM). They also observed that 49 percent of people who scored higher in math than verbal also chose a STEM career. Based from these analyses, it appears that more men end up in a STEM career than women. The researchers could not understand why women who performed on the same level as men decided not to go into a STEM career as often as men did.

The researchers found that after they surveyed these participants regarding their self-analyses, they found that women did not get as much support as men did when it came to choosing a STEM career. The researchers concluded that women felt more pressure from social stereotypes regarding women in a STEM career, which could discourage them from choosing this career path. Since these women's intellectual abilities were generally above average, they ended up with more career options, and thus, they chose one that did not come with all of the gender barriers. This study provides insight into why qualified women might not want to go into careers that have more cultural and gender barriers. The added stress, pressure, and stereotypes that they might encounter everyday in a STEM career might be making these jobs undesirable for women. However, more research needs to be done regarding the effects of stereotypes and gender barriers on women's career decisions.

The study was published in Psychological Science.

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