Men and women who have the same preferences regarding a field of study still choose different majors, with men’s choices tied to significantly higher prospective salaries than women’s choices, according to a new study — what author Natasha Quadlin, assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University, calls “gendered logics of major choice.” The paper, published in Sociology of Education, used data pertaining to 2,720 students from the three-institution Pathways Through College Study. Students were asked during their first term to rate on a scale of 1 to 5 how important money, career options, engaging classes and helping others were in selecting a major.
Quadlin compared those answers with which majors students ended up choosing and used federal data to examine the salaries associated with each. In one example, men who prioritized wanting to help people via their majors were more likely to choose biology, a premedicine field, whereas women who wanted to help people were more likely to choose nursing. The paper notes that efforts to encourage women to study certain fields may not be successful until the cultures surrounding them become more welcoming, changing women’s expectations about what fields are truly open to them.