Refusing to Fail? Masculine Over-Persistence and the Gender Gap in STEM Representation

Andrew Penner, University of California, Irvine
Robb Willer, University of California, Berkeley

Research on gender differences on representation in in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields typically focuses on the underrepresentation of women, attributing these gender differences to women’s choices to avoid STEM fields. Here we investigate the role of a hitherto overlooked possibility, that men may often persist excessively in the face of negative feedback in these same fields. A laboratory and two field studies find support for this claim. Study 1 employed a novel experimental paradigm, showing that men tended to choose mathematics over verbal questions in a testing environment where the mathematics problems were extremely difficult and they were paid for performance. Studies 2 and 3 sought to establish the robustness of the male “over-persistence effect” outside the lab, showing that men are more likely to re-take a key STEM gatekeeper course (Study 2) and STEM courses in general (Study 3) after failing them in college.

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Presented in Session 13: Gender, Race, Educational Attainment and the Returns to Education