Computer Science Majors: Sex Role Orientation, Academic Achievement, and Social Cognitive Factors

By Brown, Chris; Garavalia, Linda S. et al. | Career Development Quarterly, June 2006 | Go to article overview

Computer Science Majors: Sex Role Orientation, Academic Achievement, and Social Cognitive Factors


Brown, Chris, Garavalia, Linda S., Fritts, Mary Lou Hines, Olson, Elizabeth A., Career Development Quarterly


This study examined the sex role orientations endorsed by 188 male and female students majoring in computer science, a male-dominated college degree program. The relations among sex role orientation and academic achievement and social cognitive factors influential in career decision-making self-efficacy were explored. Findings revealed that androgynous- and feminine-oriented students scored significantly higher on career decision-making self-efficacy as compared with undifferentiated students. No significant sex role orientation differences were found for academic achievement and general and career locus of control.

Sex role typing is perpetuated by the male/female socialization process and is believed to occur in all human societies. Accordingly, men and women may be expected to conduct different tasks, assigned different rights and privileges, assumed to possess different temperamental characteristics and abilities, and may also be subjected to different rules of conduct in their interactions with each other (Spence & Helmreich, 1978). The existence of these so-called distinctive sets of attributes (which may or may not have factual validity) have been used to justify the perpetuation of society's role structure and, furthermore, are regarded as critical to members of each sex fulfilling their assigned roles (Spence & Helmreich, 1978). Similarly, Eckert and McConnell-Ginet (2003) stated that gendered performances are available to everyone; however, there are constraints on who gets to perform which gender-related behaviors. They further noted that the intersection between sex and gender occurs as society attempts to match up ways of behaving with biological sex. Consequently, sex role typing and its accompanying stereotypes/beliefs constitute different expectations about appropriate behaviors for the two sexes, and thus we believe is an important factor to consider when investigating traditional and nontraditional career choices.

In their early work, Spence and Helmreich (1978) pointed out that the meaning of the term sex role has not been clearly understood due to various disciplines (e.g., psychology, anthropology, sociology) emphasizing different components. However, among psychologists, she contended that sex role is used to refer to "the distinguishing characteristics of women and men themselves-to differences in behavior, personality, abilities, preferences, and the like" (Spence & Helmreich, 1978, p. 13). For the purposes of this study, we use the definition of sex role recognized by the psychology discipline. In addition, the use of the terms sex role typing (i.e., classification of types) and sex role orientation (i.e., one's expressed type) are used throughout the article to refer to either the classification or expression of one's sex role.

Prior to the 1970s, a single bipolar conception of sex role existed in which the psychological traits stereotypically associated with men and women preclude each other and thereby yield a unidimensional construct, representing either a masculine or a feminine orientation (Spence & Helmreich, 1978). Spence and Helmreich (1978) noted that scholars began to question this notion of a single dimension with masculinity (including most men) at one extreme and femininity (including most women) at the other extreme. Instead of a single dimension model, writers have suggested a dualistic formulation in which masculinity and femininity are essentially independent and separate dimensions.

Spence (1984) proffered that sex role is a multifactorial construct and that sex role traits constitute but one factor (i.e., masculinity or femininity). Therefore, she further asserted that sex role orientation is predictive only in situations where the sex role traits are salient and or influential. Conversely, Bern's (1981) theory of gender schema posited that persons display attitudes and behaviors that are consistent with their sex role orientation. Despite the fact that some studies have failed to find significant relationships when conceptualizing sex role as multifactorial, the sex role construct is thought to provide helpful insights into human behavior (Palan, 2001). …

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