About the Topic: Despite massive research and public policy efforts aimed at diversification, gender segregation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics remains extreme in affluent democracies. More surprising is evidence that women’s representation in many “STEM” fields is weaker in advanced industrial societies than in poorer, reputably gender traditional ones. The most obvious explanation is that broad-based existential security frees more women to realize aspirations for (less lucrative) non-STEM pursuits. I will discuss another piece of the puzzle by focusing on the aspirations themselves and how these vary with societal affluence. Over-time data on eighth-grade boys and girls in 32 countries provide strong evidence that the gender gap in aspirations for mathematically-related jobs increases with societal affluence, controlling for traits of individual students (parental education, affinity for school, mathematics test scores). This affluence effect is not attributable to cross-national differences in the gender-labeling of science, Internet access, or women’s educational or economic integration. Results are consistent with arguments suggesting that gender beliefs more strongly influence career aspirations in affluent, “postmaterialist” societies.
About the Speaker: Maria Charles is Professor and Chair of Sociology, Area Director for Sex and Gender Research, and an Affiliate Professor of Feminist Studies at U.S. Santa Barbara. She specializes in the international comparative study of social inequalities, particularly cross-national differences in women's economic, educational, and family roles. She has published extensively on gender segregation, most recently on the ideological and organizational factors that contribute to woman's underrepresentation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics ("STEM") fields around the world. She has a Ph.D. in Sociology from Stanford University, and Bachelor’s degrees from UCSB in Environmental Studies and Political Science.