Sex Roles

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Career Stereotypes and Identities: Implicit Beliefs and Major Choice for College Women and Men in STEM and Female-Dominated Fields

  • Sarah T. DunlapEmail author
  • Joan M. Barth
Original Article


The present study examines the gendered nature of implicitly held beliefs related to STEM careers. It tests predictions from balanced identity theory on the relations between implicit STEM gender stereotypes and implicit STEM identity, as well as predictions from the associative-propositional model related to exposure to counter-stereotypical exemplars in a sample of U.S. college-aged heterosexual romantic couples that varied in whether the woman majored in STEM or in female-dominated majors (FDM). Gender-STEM stereotypes and Self-STEM identification, as measured by Implicit Associations Tasks, were examined in 117 college women majoring in STEM or in FDM and in their romantic partners, some of whom were also majoring in STEM. Women in STEM majors evidenced stronger STEM identities while also demonstrating reduced Gender/STEM stereotypes in comparison to women in FDM and men in STEM. For women, implicit STEM stereotypes predicted implicit STEM identity which in turn predicted majoring in STEM, consistent with predictions from balanced identity theory. There was no support for the hypothesis that men’s exposure to counter-stereotypical women through their romantic relationships influenced their own implicit stereotypes, inconsistent with the associative-propositional model. Women in STEM fields and their romantic partners also evidenced more similar levels of STEM gender stereotypes when compared to the other couples. Dissemination of these results may encourage other STEM-talented women in similar pursuits.


Sex roles Couples Implicit Stereotyped attitudes Identity Academic specialization (major) Gender roles Romantic relationships STEM majors 



The present research was supported by Grant #HRD 1136266 from the National Science Foundation awarded to Joan Barth and the Alabama STEM Education Research Team (ASERT) which includes Rosanna E. Guadagno, Debra McCallum, Carmen L Taylor, and Beth Todd. Mary Verstatae is an additional Co-PI and coordinated data collection at the University of Akron that was part of the larger study. R. Guadagno is now at the University of Texas-Dallas and C. Burkhalter is now at the University of Alabama-Huntsville. We wish to thank Shannon Murphy, Jessy Minney, and Lauren Roberts for assistance with data collection for the Couples Survey.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Joan M. Barth has received research grants from the National Science Foundation. Joan M. Barth declares that she has no conflict of interest. Sarah T. Dunlap declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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ESM 1 (DOCX 18 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Social Science ResearchThe University of AlabamaTuscaloosaUSA

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