In their footsteps or shadow? Gender differences in choosing a STEM major as a function of sibling configuration and older sibling’s gender and math ability
Sex Roles, 86:1-2, 106–126 (2022)
Although the association between siblings’ compositional characteristics and educational performance has been extensively studied, the question of whether the features of a sibling group are related to substantive gendered educational preferences has not been examined. Our analysis of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 cohort (NLSY-79) Mothers and Children Files (N = 1545; 57% young women; 22% STEM major) showed that siblings’ compositional characteristics matter for STEM major preferences in college, but only for young women. Our findings indicated that women were more likely to prefer a STEM major if they were raised in smaller sibling groups, in male sibling group dominance, and if they had an older sister with high math achievement. These results are in line with the resource dilution approach; they shed light on the effects of being in a normative male-role sibling group climate; and they suggest that gendered outcomes are shaped by the interplay of role modeling and same-gender competitive stimulation. We also found that for young men, their preference for majoring in a STEM field was mostly driven by their own math ability. These findings suggest that socialization experiences that operate on the sibling level play a crucial role in whether girls become interested in and pursue “gender-atypical” educational choices. Our findings also underscore the need to differentiate these theoretical approaches by gender, particularly when applied to gendered outcomes such as STEM career trajectories.