Research in Higher Education

, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp 389–425

The dynamics of “tokenism”: How college students are affected by the proportion of women in their major

  • Linda J. Sax

DOI: 10.1007/BF01730108

Cite this article as:
Sax, L.J. Res High Educ (1996) 37: 389. doi:10.1007/BF01730108


This study provides an empirical test of Kanter's theory of “tokenism” (1977a,b)—that individuals will be affected adversely by declining representation of their own gender within an environment. Using students' college major as the environmental backdrop, this study examines how the proportion of women in a major affects students' college grades, academic self-concept, mathematical self-concept, social selfconcept, satisfaction with the major, and persistence in the major. Data are drawn from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program's 1985 Freshman Survey and 1989 Follow-Up Survey. The sample includes 7,641 women and 5,074 men in 344 fouryear colleges and universities. Regression results indicate that the proportion of women in the major has essentially no impact on the cognitive and affective development of college students. Instead, this study illustrates how the relationship between the gender composition of the major and student outcomes can be accounted for by characteristics of students, aspects of the college environment, and the effects of major field.

Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Linda J. Sax
    • 1
  1. 1.Higher Education Research Institute at UCLALos AngelesUSA