Sex Roles

, Volume 65, Issue 9–10, pp 725–736 | Cite as

The Roles of Perceived Identity Compatibility and Social Support for Women in a Single-Sex STEM Program at a Co-educational University

Original Article


Single-sex programs have been implemented in a variety of educational settings to help promote greater engagement of women in STEM fields. However, the mechanisms through which single-sex programs increase women’s engagement in STEM fields are unclear. Drawing from research in social and health psychology, we examined two theoretically-guided predictors of women’s sense of belonging in their STEM majors and belonging at the university: perceived identity compatibility between being a woman and being in a STEM field, and perceived social support. Participants were 65 racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse women enrolled in a single-sex STEM program at a co-educational university in Northeastern United States. Participants completed online surveys before the start of their first year of college, and again at the beginning of their second year of college. Findings from multiple regression analyses support hypotheses that across STEM women’s first or transitional year of college, perceived identity compatibility, perceived support from close others, and perceived support from the single-sex program for STEM women were each independently associated with greater sense of belonging in their major. Additionally, perceived identity compatibility and perceived support from the single-sex program were associated with greater sense of belonging at the university. These findings suggest that perceived support from sources such as single-sex programs and perceived compatibility between one’s field and being female may sustain women pursuing training in nontraditional fields such as STEM. Continued investigation of these factors may elucidate the impact of single-sex programs and inform interventions to increase the retention of women in STEM.


Gender disparities Identity compatibility Science Single-sex programs Social support Women 


  1. American Association of University Women (AAUW). (2004). Under the microscope: A decade of gender equity projects in the sciences. Washington, DC: American Association of University Women Educational Foundation.Google Scholar
  2. Ancis, J. R., & Phillips, S. D. (1996). Academic gender bias and women’s behavioral agency self-efficacy. Journal of Counseling and Development, 75, 131–137.Google Scholar
  3. Aron, A., Aron, E. N., & Smollan, D. (1992). Inclusion of other in the self scale and the structure of interpersonal closeness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 596–612.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blickenstaff, J. C. (2005). Women and science careers: Leaky pipeline or gender filter? Gender and Education, 17, 369–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brainard, S. G., & Carlin, L. (1998). A six-year longitudinal study of undergraduate women in engineering and science. Journal of Engineering Education, 87, 369–375.Google Scholar
  6. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Campbell, P. B., & Wahl, E. (1998). What’s sex got to do with it? Simplistic questions, complex answers. In S. Morse (Ed.), Separated by sex: A critical look at single-sex education for girls (pp. 63–73). Washington, DC: American Association of University Women Educational Foundation.Google Scholar
  8. Ceci, S. J., Williams, W. M., & Barnett, S. M. (2009). Women’s underrepresentation in science: Sociocultural and biological considerations. Psychological Bulletin, 135, 218–261.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Deaux, K., & Major, B. (1987). Putting gender into context: An interactive model of gender-related behavior. Psychological Review, 94, 369–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dunkel-Schetter, C., & Bennett, T. L. (1990). Differentiating the cognitive and behavioral aspects of social support. In I. G. Sarason, B. R. Sarason, & G. R. Pierce (Eds.), Social support: An interactional view (pp. 267–296). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  11. Dunkel-Schetter, C., & Lobel, M. (1990). Stress among students. New Directions for Student Services, 49, 17–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Eccles, J. S. (2005). Subjective task value and the Eccles et al. model of achievement-related choices. In A. J. Elliot & C. S. Dweck (Eds.), Handbook of competence and motivation (pp. 105–121). New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  13. Eccles, J. S. (2007). Where are all the women? Gender differences in participation in physical science and engineering. In S. J. Ceci & W. M. Williams (Eds.), Why aren’t more women in science? (pp. 199–210). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Eccles, J. S., Midgley, C., Wigfield, A., Buchanan, C. M., Reuman, D., Flanagan, C., et al. (1993). The impact of stage-environment fit on young adolescents’ experiences in schools and in families. The American Psychologist, 48(2), 90–101.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Erwin, L., & Maurutto, P. (1998). Beyond access: Considering gender deficits in science education. Gender and Education, 10, 51–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Exline, J. J., & Lobel, M. (1997). Views of the self and affiliation strategies: A social comparison perspective. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 19, 243–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Ferreira, M. M. (2003). Gender issues related to graduate student attrition in two science departments. International Journal of Science Education, 25, 969–989.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Finn, J. D. (1989). Withdrawing from school. Review of Educational Research, 59, 117–142.Google Scholar
  19. Gall, T. L., Evans, D., & Bellerose, S. (2000). Transition to first-year university: Patterns of change in adjustment across life domains and time. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 19, 544–567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Garmezy, N. (1991). Resilience and vulnerability to adverse developmental outcomes associated with poverty. The American Behavioral Scientist, 34, 416–430.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Goodenow, C. (1993). The psychological sense of school membership among adolescents: Scale development and educational correlates. Psychology in the Schools, 30, 79–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hoffman, M., Richmond, J., Morrow, J., & Salomone, K. (2002). Investigating “Sense of Belonging” in first year college students. Journal of College Student Retention, 4, 227–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hogg, M. A., & Abrams, D. (1988). Social identifications: A social psychology of intergroup relations and group processes. Florence: Taylor & Francis/Routledge.Google Scholar
  24. Hollenshead, C., Younce, P. S., & Wenzel, S. A. (1994). Women graduate students in mathematics and physics: Reflections on success. Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, 1, 63–88.Google Scholar
  25. Kleinbaum, D. G., Kupper, L. L., Muller, K. E., & Nizam, A. (1998). Applied regression analysis and multivariate methods. Pacific Grove: Duxbury.Google Scholar
  26. Lazarus, R., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York: Springer Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  27. Levy, S. R., West, T., & Ramirez, L. (2005). Lay theories and intergroup relations: A social developmental perspective. European Review of Social Psychology, 16, 189–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. London, B., Downey, G., Bolger, N., & Velilla, E. (2005). A framework for studying social identity and coping with daily stress during the transition to college. In G. Downey, J. Eccles, & C. Chatman (Eds.), Navigating the future: Social identity, coping, and life tasks (pp. 45–63). New York: Russell Sage.Google Scholar
  29. London, B., Downey, G., Bonica, C., & Paltin, I. (2007). Social causes and consequences of rejection sensitivity. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 17, 481–506.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. London, B., Rosenthal, L., & Gonzalez, A. (2011). Using experience sampling methodology to capture the impact of identity, support, and gender rejection on the academic engagement of women. Journal of Social issues, 67(3).Google Scholar
  31. Mael, F., Alonso, A., Girbson, D., Rogers, K., & Smith, M. (2005). Single-sex versus co-educational schooling: A systematic review. Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of Education.Google Scholar
  32. Meinholdt, C., & Murray, S. L. (1999). Why aren’t there more women engineers? Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, 5, 239–263.Google Scholar
  33. Mendoza-Denton, R., Downey, G., Purdie, V., Davis, A., & Pietrzak, J. (2002). Sensitivity to status-based rejection: Implications for African-American students college experiences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 896–918.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics, Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2009, NSF 09-305, (Arlington, VA; January 2009). Available from
  35. Osterman, K. F. (2000). Students’ need for belonging in the school community. Review of Educational Research, 70, 323–367.Google Scholar
  36. Ostrove, J. M., & Long, S. M. (2007). Social class and belonging: Implications for college adjustment. The Review of Higher Education, 30, 363–389.Google Scholar
  37. Protheroe, N. (2009). Single-sex classrooms. Principal, May/June. Retrieved from
  38. Roccas, S., & Brewer, M. B. (2002). Social identity complexity. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 6, 88–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Rosenthal, L., London, B., Levy, S. R., Lobel, M., Guarino, M., Bermeo, J., et al. (2009, August). Role models increase women’s engagement in science. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association. Toronto, Canada.Google Scholar
  40. Ruble, D., & Seidman, E. (1996). Social transitions: Windows into social psychological processes. In E. T. Higgins & A. Kruglanski (Eds.), Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles (pp. 830–856). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  41. Settles, I. H. (2004). When multiple identities interfere: The role of identity centrality. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 487–500.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Settles, I. H. (2006). Use of an intersectional framework to understand Black women’s racial and gender identities. Sex Roles, 54, 589–601.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Settles, I. H., Jellison, W. A., & Pratt-Hyatt, J. S. (2009). Identification with multiple social groups: The moderating role of identity change over time among women scientists. Journal of Research in Personality, 43, 856–867.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Shih, M., Pittinsky, T. L., & Ambady, N. (1999). Stereotype susceptibility: Identity salience and shifts in quantitative performance. Psychological Science, 10, 81–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Smithers, A., & Robinson, P. (2006). The paradox of single-sex and co-educational schooling. Buckingham, UK: Carmichael Press.Google Scholar
  46. Steele, J., James, J. B., & Barnett, R. C. (2002). Learning in a man’s world: Examining the perceptions of undergraduate women in male-dominated academic areas. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26, 46–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W. G. Austin & S. Worchel (Eds.), The social psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 33–47). Monterey: Brooks/Cole.Google Scholar
  48. Taylor, S. E., & Lobel, M. (1989). Social comparison activity under threat: Downward evaluation and upward contacts. Psychological Review, 96, 569–575.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Tropp, L. R., & Wright, S. C. (2001). Ingroup identification as the inclusion of ingroup in the self. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 585–600.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Walker, C. O., & Greene, B. A. (2009). The relations between student motivational beliefs and cognitive engagement in high school. The Journal of Educational Research, 102, 463–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Warrington, M., & Younger, M. (2000). The other side of the gender gap. Gender and Education, 12, 493–508.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyStony Brook UniversityStony BrookUSA

Personalised recommendations