My Research Paper: Sociology of Education

I plan to study the role of gender on selection of college major. As described by Ann L. Mullen in her article, “Gender, Social Background, and the Choice of College Major in a Liberal Arts Context,” scholars studying gender segregation of college majors have found over the course of the three decades that “about one-third of all men (or all women) would have to change majors in order for the distribution of men and women across all fields to be the same” (Mullen, 291). I am interested in studying the history of this gender segregation, “the cultural devaluation of the feminine,” and how these trends could be reflected in or related to the gender wage gap in the workforce (Mullen, 292).

Barbara Bank claims that much of this gender segregation results from “gender traditionalism” supported by “liberal arts and careerist visions for education” (Mullen, 294). Stephen L. Morgan, Dafna Gelbgiser, and Kim A. Weeden present the concept of the pipeline that categorizes navigation through STEM fields and careers but question whether this metaphor should also work to incorporate the impacts of gendered early education (Morgan, Gelbgiser, and Weeden, 991). There is also significant debate throughout literature surrounding the “two core factors: gender differences in ability and gender differences in preferences” (Morgan, Gelbgiser, and Weeden, 991). The main question I would be asking is the following: does the gender segregation of college majors contribute to the reproduction of gender inequalities?

As someone with relatively little knowledge in the education field but significant personal experience, I am eager to interact with the current research regarding the impact of gender on deciding which college major to pursue. With that in mind, I determined that I wanted to write an argumentative literature review. As I dig deeper into this subject, I hope to narrow down my interests into two or three theoretical positions. At the current moment, I think one perspective I could present is the debate over the contrasting concepts of gender differences in ability and gender differences in preferences.

Within this category, I could explore the causation of these differences, which are debated to be among the following: “biologically based, learned through socialization and interactions with family and friends, internalized reflections of widely held cultural beliefs about men and women’s competencies, anticipatory responses to work–family conflicts embedded in gendered organizational and institutional structures, or adaptations to perceived opportunity structures” (Morgan, Gelbgiser, and Weeden, 991).

Another perspective I could consider is what criteria students use to determine their college major and the influence of the gendered forms of self-assessment in this decision-making. One final perspective could be a contemplation of the institutionalized sexism within academia and its effect on college advising. I recognize that my ideas are still somewhat scattered in these early stages of this research paper. I look forward to really diving into the literature on this topic and solidifying three different perspectives to analyze in relation to gender and college major selection.

Works Cited

Mullen, Ann L. “Gender, Social Background, and the Choice of College Major in a Liberal Arts
Context.” Gender & Society, vol. 28, no. 2, 17 Dec. 2013, pp. 289–312. Sage Journals.
Morgan, Stephen L, et al. “Feeding the Pipeline: Gender, Occupational Plans, and College Major
Selection.” Social Science Research, vol. 42, no. 4, July 2013, pp. 989–1005.ScienceDirect.

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