There is considerable interest in understanding women’s underrepresentation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers. Career choices have been shown to be driven in part by interests, and gender differences in those interests have generally been considered to result from socialization. We explored the contribution of sex hormones to career-related interests, in particular studying whether prenatal androgens affect interests through psychological orientation to Things versus People. We examined this question in individuals with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), who have atypical exposure to androgens early in development, and their unaffected siblings (total N = 125 aged 9 to 26 years). Females with CAH had more interest in Things versus People than did unaffected females, and variations among females with CAH reflected variations in their degree of androgen exposure. Results provide strong support for hormonal influences on interest in occupations characterized by working with Things versus People.
The magnitude and variability of sex differences in vocational interests were examined in the present meta-analysis for Holland’s (1959, 1997) categories (Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional), Prediger’s (1982) Things–People and Data–Ideas dimensions, and the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) interest areas. Technical manuals for 47 interest inventories were used, yielding 503,188 respondents. Results showed that men prefer working with things and women prefer working with people, producing a large effect size (d = 0.93) on the Things–People dimension. Men showed stronger Realistic (d = 0.84) and Investigative (d = 0.26) interests, and women showed stronger Artistic (d = −0.35), Social (d = −0.68), and Conventional (d = −0.33) interests. Sex differences favoring men were also found for more specific measures of engineering (d = 1.11), science (d = 0.36), and mathematics (d = 0.34) interests. Average effect sizes varied across interest inventories, ranging from 0.08 to 0.79. The quality of interest inventories, based on professional reputation, was not differentially related to the magnitude of sex differences. Moderators of the effect sizes included interest inventory item development strategy, scoring method, theoretical framework, and sample variables of age and cohort. Application of some item development strategies can substantially reduce sex differences. The present study suggests that interests may play a critical role in gendered occupational choices and gender disparity in the STEM fields.
The degree of women’s underrepresentation varies by STEM fields. Women are now overrepresented in social sciences, yet only constitute a fraction of the engineering workforce. In the current study, we investigated the gender differences in interests as an explanation for the differential distribution of women across sub-disciplines of STEM as well as the overall underrepresentation of women in STEM fields. Specifically, we meta-analytically reviewed norm data on basic interests from 52 samples in 33 interest inventories published between 1964 and 2007, with a total of 209,810 male and 223,268 female respondents. We found gender differences in interests to vary largely by STEM field, with the largest gender differences in interests favoring men observed in engineering disciplines (d = 0.83–1.21), and in contrast, gender differences in interests favoring women in social sciences and medical services (d = −0.33 and −0.40, respectively). Importantly, the gender composition (percentages of women) in STEM fields reflects these gender differences in interests. The patterns of gender differences in interests and the actual gender composition in STEM fields were explained by the people-orientation and things-orientation of work environments, and were not associated with the level of quantitative ability required. These findings suggest potential interventions targeting interests in STEM education to facilitate individuals‘ ability and career development and strategies to reform work environments to better attract and retain women in STEM occupations.
Holland uses a hexagon to model relationships among his six types of vocational interests. This paper provides empirical evidence regarding the nature of the interest dimensions underlying the hexagon. Two studies are reported. Study 1 examines the extent to which two theory-based dimensions—data/ideas and things/people—fit 27 sets of intercorrelations for Holland’s types. Three of the data sets involve the mean scores of career groups (total of 228 groups and 35,060 individuals); 24 involve the scores for individuals (total of 11,275). Study 2 explores the heuristic value of the data/ideas and things/people dimensions by determining whether they contribute to the understanding of why interest inventories work. Two data sets covering a total of 563 occupations are used to calculate correlations between the vocational interests of persons and the tasks which characterize the persons‘ occupations. Each occupation’s principal work tasks are determined from job analysis data obtained from the U.S. Department of Labor. Study 1 results provide substantial support for the theory-based dimensions. Study 2 results suggest that interest inventories “work” primarily because they tap activity preferences which parallel work tasks. Counseling and research applications of the data/ideas and things/people dimensions are suggested and implications for interest assessment are noted
Previous theory and research suggests that individuals selectively orient primarily toward the social environment (people) or toward the physical environment (things). These orientations can be conceptualized as motivation-based complexes that influence personal preferences and interests, with consequences for important life choices. This paper examined differential orientation in two studies, one with university students and another with children. Person-thing Orientation showed sex differences and was related to occupational choices in both age groups. For university students person-thing interests were linked to academic majors, and retention within programs focused on things (e.g., science and engineering). Sex differences were greater for TO than PO, but not for students majoring in engineering. Sex differences in selective orientations to the social and physical environments were similar in children (3rd and 6th grade) and university students, suggesting processes may be underway early and may be consequential for sex differences in interests and career trajectories for STEM.
Individuals differ in their orientation toward the people and things in their environment. This has consequences for important life choices. The authors review 15 studies on Person and Thing Orientations (PO-TO) using data from 7,450 participants to establish the nature of the constructs, their external correlates, and their predictive utility. These findings suggest that these two orientations are not bipolar and are virtually independent constructs. They differentially relate to major personality dimensions and show consistent sex differences, whereby women are typically more oriented toward people and men more oriented toward things. Additionally, these orientations influence personal preferences and interests. For university students, PO and TO uniquely predict choice of major and retention within thing-oriented fields (e.g., science and engineering)
Individuals differ in their orientation toward aspects of the environment. Previous work suggests that some individuals orient primarily toward people, whereas others orient toward things. Women generally orient towards people more than men, and men orient towards things more than women. Person–thing orientation is related to occupational choices. This research examined the structure of person–thing orientation using a combination of exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses and structural equation modeling. Analyses suggested that thing orientation and person orientation can be measured (1) with a few items; (2) separately from each other; and (3) person orientation and thing orientation are not necessarily bipolar opposites.
Individuals selectively orient toward their social environment (people) and toward their physical environment (things/objects). These orientations are key predictors of important life outcomes, including career decisions. However, research has not yet examined whether orientations toward people and things manifest in naturalistic environments. The present two-part study addressed this gap. In part one, participants rated their interest in person- and thing-related books (e.g., on relationships; robots). Participants then took a camera home for several days to photograph anything or anyone they considered an important part of their life. In part two, the photographs were submitted and coded for content. Results support the construct validity of person and thing orientations. Greater interest was expressed in orientation-related than unrelated books and photograph content was consistent with individuals‘ orientations. The findings suggest that person and thing orientations leave traces in everyday environments and behaviors. This research highlights implications for the development of interests and academic and occupational decision-making.
Although the gender gap in academia has narrowed, females are underrepresented within some fields in the USA. Prior research suggests that the imbalances between science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields may be partly due to greater male interest in things and greater female interest in people, or to off-putting masculine cultures in some disciplines. To seek more detailed insights across all subjects, this article compares practising US male and female researchers between and within 285 narrow Scopus fields inside 26 broad fields from their first-authored articles published in 2017. The comparison is based on publishing fields and the words used in article titles, abstracts, and keywords. The results cannot be fully explained by the people/thing dimensions. Exceptions include greater female interest in veterinary science and cell biology and greater male interest in abstraction, patients, and power/control fields, such as politics and law. These may be due to other factors, such as the ability of a career to provide status or social impact or the availability of alternative careers. As a possible side effect of the partial people/thing relationship, females are more likely to use exploratory and qualitative methods and males are more likely to use quantitative methods. The results suggest that the necessary steps of eliminating explicit and implicit gender bias in academia are insufficient and might be complemented by measures to make fields more attractive to minority genders.