Researchers at the University of Buffalo, USA could have an answer as to why fields such as science, technology, engineering and math, often referred to as STEM, are dominated by men. As per the study, women who preferred more intelligent partners were less likely to show interest in male-dominated fields as math and science.
The research builds upon previous findings that found that thinking about romantic goals affected women’s attitudes toward careers in STEM. In particular, previous research suggested an incompatibility between romantic goal pursuits and intelligence goal pursuits for women, but not men. The current paper suggests that the incompatibility may be most pronounced for women who prefer partners of greater intelligence.
Lead author Lora Park that they found that not all women reacted equally to these romantic goal primes. Women who had a traditional romantic partner preference of wanting to date someone smarter than themselves were the ones who distanced themselves the most from STEM fields when they thought about romantic goals. The women in this research also performed worse on a math test and tended to show less identification with math, an academic discipline at the base of science and technology careers.
The diluted interest and identification is specific to the perceived masculine fields of math and science and is not a general effect. Participants did not show less interest in careers often considered feminine, such as those in social work or elementary education, says Park.
“This suggests there might be something strategic about the lack of interest or perhaps women are downplaying their interests in these fields,” says Park. “On the other hand, it could be a process they’re not even conscious of. It could be an automatic reaction.”
Parks says it’s interesting that women, who didn’t have this partner preference tended to show better STEM outcomes, suggesting the more non-traditional preference might contribute to greater interest in STEM. The study appears in Journal of Applied Social Psychology.