Men tend to select post-secondary majors with higher earning potential than women, according to a new study led by sociologist Natasha Quadlin of Ohio State University.

Quadlin used data from a survey of 2,720 students from three institutions that had programs designed to retain and support STEM students.

The participants were asked to rate how important money earned, career options, engaging classes, and helping others were when selecting a major.

“The pattern was clear: The majors men choose are associated with significantly higher earning than the majors women choose – regardless of men’s and women’s major preferences,” Quadlin said in a statement.

Women tended to choose majors associated with lower-paying jobs even when they prioritized economic returns, Quadlin said.

In situations where men prioritized other qualities, like helping others, they still tended to choose more higher-paying majors than women.


Quadlin suspects socialization may be one reason behind the gender gap.

“There’s research that suggests men and women have very different ideas about what types of careers and fields are open and available to them,” she said.

“Some STEM careers that pay the most may not be as receptive to women as they are to men, so women adjust what majors they select.”

To attract more women into STEM, Qudalin suggests institutions will have to make it about more than just money.

“You may not be able to attract women to high-paying STEM careers just by telling them it is a way to make a lot of money or a way to help other people. Instead, we may have more to do with changing the culture around STEM so that women feel the field is more open and receptive to them.”

The paper can be found in SAGE Journals.