The Influence of Others on University Study ChoicesMALES CHOOSE SCIENTIFIC SUBJECTS, FEMALES CHOOSE LITERARY ONES. A STUDY BY MASSIMO ANELLI AND GIOVANNI PERI EXPLAINS WHY
College major choices account for 30% of gender pay gap among graduate workers. Females tend to opt for humanities, while males prefer scientific degree courses that enables to better economic outcomes. Researchers have investigated the determinants of these choices in order to find a way to counterbalance them. Laboratory experiments conducted by behavioral economists have shown, for instance, that women shy away from competition with men. This could be the reason why female students, after having experienced competition in high school, stay away from prevalently male scientific degree courses.
A zero cost policy of classroom gender composition could therefore be a way to reduce the gender pay gap. Massimo Anelli tested this theory with Giovanni Peri on a longitudinal data set of 30,000 Italian students who graduated in 1985-2005.
“We found that gender composition of peers in high school do not affect the choice of college major by female students”, Massimo Anelli says. “Only male students attending a high school class with 80% or more male classmates have a probability of choosing a prevalently male college major between 6 and 15% higher than the average”.
This could be explained by the way female students and male students form their networks of friends. The former prefer strong ties with a few people, regardless of the number of other girls in the classroom; male students tend to expand their social network and this attitude ends up influencing their faculty choice.
“This is not necessarily good news. The influence of the social network pushes male students to enroll in majors too complicated for them. They end up graduating with bad grades or dropping out of school before completing their degree. The increased likelihood of choosing prevalently male majors does not translate into any significant effect on income of male individuals who attended a high school class with more than 80% of male peers. Segregating classes by gender would be ineffective or even harmful”.
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by Claudio Todesco