Do faculty serve as role models? The impact of instructor gender on female students

Published on Apr 1, 2005in The American Economic Review4.10
· DOI :10.1257/000282805774670149
Eric Bettinger27
Estimated H-index: 27
(Case Western Reserve University),
Bridget Terry Long26
Estimated H-index: 26
(Harvard University)
Although women have matched or surpassed men in many educational outcomes such as college access and persistence, female students remain much less likely to major in quantitative, technical, and science-related fields. While women have made progress in recent years, only 20 percent of engineering students are female, and the proportion of women receiving degrees in the sciences and engineering in the United States lags that of other industrialized countries (National Center for Education Statistics, 1995). This underrepresentation of women may have serious implications for women’s returns to education and may relate to occupational segregation and earnings inequality by gender (Linda Loury, 1997). As the economy shifts to favor these more male-dominated fields, there is concern that women will not be prepared to succeed. Moreover, the health of the economy depends on the production of certain kinds of degrees, and the underrepresentation of women in certain areas may contribute to shortages in critical fields. There have been many widely publicized efforts by the government, companies, and schools to increase female representation in male-dominated fields. One focus has been to increase mentoring opportunities for female students by hiring more women faculty members. Theory and evidence suggest that female instructors may be instrumental in encouraging women to enroll and excel in subjects in which they are underrepresented. Female students may avoid male-dominated fields due to biases against women (Sandra Hanson, 1996), and the presence of female faculty may mitigate these effects. David Neumark and Rosella Gardecki (1998) found that female doctoral students with female mentors were more likely to succeed. However, similar to student trends, women are underrepresented on university faculties, particularly in the sciences and quantitative fields, and many worry about the lack of potential role models for female undergraduates. For example, in 2003 Princeton University created a 10 million fund to hire and promote women faculty in science and engineering departments while Duke’s president pledged million per year for the same purpose (Robin Wilson, 2003). In addition, the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE program continues to push for “increased representation and advancement of women in academic careers and engineering careers” (National Science Foundation, 2004). Does the presence of faculty members of the same gender impact student interest in a subject? This paper answers this question by estimating how having a female faculty member in an initial course affects the likelihood that a female student will take additional credit hours or major in a particular subject. If students choose their courses and major based on their experiences during their initial exposure to a subject, then the instructors they face early in a discipline could influence these decisions. Such an analysis is difficult because few data sets allow researchers to link student outcomes to faculty characteristics. However, using a comprehensive, longitudinal data set of nearly 54,000 students, this paper is among the first, large-scale studies to estimate the impact of faculty on the outcomes of students. Moreover, † Discussants: Ronald Ehrenberg, Cornell University; Brian Jacob, Harvard University; Richard Murnane, Harvard University.
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