Why do fewer women major in STEM fields? In part, research suggests, it’s because they don’t want to risk earning less-than-amazing grades — even if a B in a science field would allow them to graduate with a better-paying degree than an A in humanities.
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“The college majors that tend to lead to the most profitable professions are also the stingiest about awarding A’s,” writes Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post. “Science departments grade, on a four-point scale, an average of 0.4 points lower than humanities departments, according to a 2010 analysis of national grading data by Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healy. And two new research studies suggest that women might be abandoning these lucrative disciplines precisely because they’re terrified of getting B’s.”
In one research project, Harvard professor Claudia Goldin looked at why so few women major in economics. Her findings? While men are more confident to begin with, they’re also more likely to shrug off less-than-sterling grades.
“Maybe women just don’t want to get things wrong,” Goldin hypothesized. “They don’t want to walk around being a B-minus student in something. They want to find something they can be an A student in. They want something where the professor will pat them on the back and say ‘You’re doing so well!'”
If that’s the case, maybe we should be doing more than encouraging young women — and girls, earlier in their education — to think of themselves as being good at math and science. Maybe we should also be teaching them how to fail, and recover.
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