Why Don't Girls Choose Technological Studies? Adolescents' Stereotypes and Attitudes towards Studies Related to Medicine or Engineering

By López-Sáez, Mercedes; Puertas, Susana et al. | The Spanish Journal of Psychology, January 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Why Don't Girls Choose Technological Studies? Adolescents' Stereotypes and Attitudes towards Studies Related to Medicine or Engineering


López-Sáez, Mercedes, Puertas, Susana, Sáinz, Milagros, The Spanish Journal of Psychology


Gender differences in choice of studies emerge already in adolescence. Two studies with adolescents are presented, the goal of which is to explore the influence of gender by assessing males and females who choose studies related to Medicine or Engineering. Study 1, correlational (N = 330, mean age 15.9, 56.7% girls), shows that girls who choose technology are more poorly appraised than girls who choose other studies. Study 2 (N = 130; mean age 16.77, 56.2% girls), experimental, measures implicit attitudes (using the IAT) towards males and females from Medicine and Engineering. Implicit attitudes are more favorable towards women if they are studying Medicine and towards men if they study Engineering. The results are analyzed with relation to the percentages of boys and girls in the different fields of study.

Keywords: Career choice, gender stereotypes, gender attitudes, adolescence, IAT.

Las diferencias de género en elección de estudios aparecen ya en la adolescencia. Se presentan dos estudios con muestras de adolescentes, cuyo objetivo es explorar la influencia del género al evaluar a hombres y mujeres que eligen estudios relacionados con Medicina o con Ingeniería. El estudio 1, correlacional (N = 330; media de edad 15,9), muestra que la chica de tecnología es peor evaluada que la que elige otro tipo de estudios. El estudio 2 (N = 130; media de edad 17,8), experimental, mide actitudes implícitas (utilizando el IAT) hacia hombres y mujeres de Medicina e Ingeniería. Las actitudes implícitas hacia las mujeres son más favorables si pertenecen a Medicina y hacia los hombres si pertenecen a Ingeniería. Los resultados se analizan en relación con las tasas de chicas y chicos en las distintas ramas de estudio.

Palabras clave: elección de estudios, estereotipos de género, actitudes de género, adolescencia, IAT.

There is a preponderance of women in the Spanish universities since over more than a decade, but, if we look at the percentages of the sexes in certain study fields, such as Health Sciences (74.2% women) or Engineering (27.3% women), the data reveal very pronounced differences (Instituto de la Mujer, 2009, data from 2005-6)1. In Spain, where this investigation was carried out, in the university studies, both Medicine and Engineering are considered to be quite prestigious careers, partly because of the difficulty to gain access to them, and partly because of the difficulty of the material. In order to enroll in these careers, students need a much higher average middle-education grade than for other careers. In addition, the employment rate in these professional sectors is currently much higher than in others. In an investigation carried out by the Centro de Investigación y Documentación Educativa (CIDE; in English, the Center of Research and Educational Documentation) of the Ministry of Education at the end of the 1980s with a sample of first-year university students of various careers, Engineering careers were the studies that scored highest in difficulty, prestige, employment, and money. Medicine came second in all these criteria, except for employment (CIDE, Instituto de la Mujer [Women's Institute], 1988). Although there are no recent studies about the rating of studies that confirm these results, there have been no social changes to make one think that this rating may have changed and the careers of Engineering and Medicine can still be considered to be highly valued in these characteristics by students.

This situation is common in other countries and reflects a completely generalized pattern in advanced countries. In the entire European Union (Eurostat, 2008), the percentage in 2005 of female graduates in Sciences, Mathematics, and Computer Science reached 39.17%, in Health Sciences 66.42%, and in Engineering 18.32%. Therefore, it does not mean that women reject sciences. The representation of women in careers of Medical or Biological Sciences and Chemistry is good, but not in Physics or in Engineering. …

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