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"... The belief that female students avoid male-dominated majors due to gender biases, and that the presence of female faculty may mitigate these effects has prompted several North American universities to initiate programs to increase the number of female faculty in various …elds, in particular Science ..."
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The belief that female students avoid male-dominated majors due to gender biases, and that the presence of female faculty may mitigate these effects has prompted several North American universities to initiate programs to increase the number of female faculty in various …elds, in particular Science and Engineering. However, existing evidence on the role of gender in major choice is surprisingly thin, sometimes contradictory, and usually based on small, localized samples. This paper studies whether the proportion of female faculty at a department has an influence on the proportion of female students in that field by using a nationally representative panel dataset, Computer Aided Science Policy Analysis and Research (CASPAR), over the years 1976-1987. Our panel data analysis reveals a statistically significant positive effect of the proportion of female faculty on female students only for the field of Engineering, the field with the lowest proportion of female faculty. In an alternate specification, we control for potentially confounding unobserved characteristics of colleges and students that might be correlated with the gender composition of faculty by using the idiosyncratic variation in female faculty in a field across time within the same college. This strategy also yields similar results. Once we control for prevailing gender stereotypes across states by using a state-level gender-equality index, the positive influence of female faculty in Engineering disappears. This suggests that the channel through which female faculty influence the choices of female students are by serving as “role models” for female students, and by negating the “stereotype threat”. Moreover, we do not find any effect of male faculty members on the choice of male students in female-dominated majors; this finding is consistent with the social psychology theories that females are more influenceable.