Missing Women in STEM in China: an Empirical Study from the Viewpoint of Achievement Motivation and Gender Socialization

  • Xueyan Yang
  • Chenzhuo GaoEmail author


Although women are increasingly earning degrees in STEM, they remain under-represented in these fields. An empirical study was undertaken to explain the phenomenon of missing women in STEM in China from the viewpoint of achievement motivation and gender socialization, using data from the Third National Survey on the Social Status of Chinese Women. One-way ANOVAs were used to compare the achievement motivation and two stages of gender socialization among the male and female college students in STEM majors in China. Multiple linear regression analysis was used to examine the effects of the two stages of gender socialization on achievement motivation. Results showed that the phenomenon was due to lower achievement motivation of women than that of men in STEM majors. The gender differences were gradually shaped by two stages of gender socialization. In the social construction of gender roles, lower career expectations from parents and gender stereotypes from the culture negatively impacted women’s achievement motivation. In the internalization of gender role expectations, traditional gender role attitudes hindered the advancement of women’s achievement motivation. Therefore, an atmosphere of gender equality should be created in order to stop the outflow of women from the STEM pipeline.


STEM Gender differences Achievement motivation Gender socialization 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Atkinson, J. W. (1957). Motivational determinants of risk-taking behavior. Psychological Review, 64(6), 359–372.Google Scholar
  2. Beere, C. A., King, D. W., Beere, D. B., & King, L. A. (1984). The sex-role egalitarianism scale: A measure of attitudes toward equality between the sexes. Sex Roles, 10(7–8), 563–576.Google Scholar
  3. Ceci, S. J., & Williams, W. M. (2011). Understanding current causes of women's under-representation in science. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108, 3157–3162.Google Scholar
  4. Chavatzia, T. (2017). Cracking the code: Girls’ and women’s education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) (p. 20). Paris: UNESCO.Google Scholar
  5. Chen, H. (2003). 儿童性别角色发展理论述评(a review on theories of child sex role development). Journal of Xuzhou Normal University (Natural Science Edition), 4(21), 63–66.Google Scholar
  6. Corrigall, E. A., & Konrad, A. M. (2007). Gender role attitudes and careers: A longitudinal study. Sex Roles, 56(11–12), 847–855.Google Scholar
  7. Davidson, L., & Gordon, L. K. (1979). The Sociology of Gender. Chicago: Rand McNally.Google Scholar
  8. Eccles, J. (2011). Gendered educational and occupational choices: Applying the Eccles et al. model of achievement-related choices. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 35(3), 195–201.Google Scholar
  9. Eccles, J. S. (2014). Gender and achievement choices. In E. T. Gershoff, R. S. Mistry, & D. A. Crosby (Eds.), Societal contexts of child development: Pathways of influence and implications for practice and policy (pp. 19–34). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Eccles, J. S., Jacobs, J. E., & Harold, R. D. (1990). Gender role stereotypes, expectancy effects, and parents’ socialization of gender differences. Journal of Social Issues, 46, 183–201.Google Scholar
  11. Elsequest, N. M., Mineo, C. C., & Higgins, A. (2013). Math and science attitudes and achievement at the intersection of gender and ethnicity. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 37(3), 293–309.Google Scholar
  12. Feng, X. T., & Xiao, J. (2014). 中国女性性别角色意识的城乡差异研究(a study on the gender role consciousness of Chinese women in urban and rural areas). The Journal of Humanities, 2014(11), 107–116.Google Scholar
  13. Fogliati, V. J., & Bussey, K. (2013). Stereotype threat reduces motivation to improve: Effects of stereotype threat and feedback on women’s intentions to improve mathematical ability. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 37(3), 310–324.Google Scholar
  14. Fortin, N. M. (2005). Gender role attitudes and the labour-market outcomes of women across OECD countries. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 21(3), 416–438.Google Scholar
  15. Fouladchang, M., Marzooghi, R., & Shemshiri, B. (2009). The effect of gender and grade level differences on achievement goal orientations of Iranian undergraduate students. Journal of Applied Sciences, 9(5), 968–972.Google Scholar
  16. Geary, D. C., Saults, S. J., Liu, F., & Hoard, M. K. (2000). Sex differences in spatial cognition, computational fluency, and arithmetical reasoning. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 77(4), 337–353.Google Scholar
  17. Gjesme, T. (1971). Motive to achieve success and motive to avoid failure in relation to school performance for pupils of different ability levels. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 15(1), 81–99.Google Scholar
  18. Halpern, D. F., Benbow, C. P., Geary, D. C., Gur, R. C., Hyde, J. S., & Gernsbacher, M. A. (2010). The science of sex differences in science and mathematics. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 8(1), 1–51.Google Scholar
  19. Hand, S., Rice, L., & Greenlee, E. (2017). Exploring teachers’ and students’ gender role bias and students’ confidence in STEM fields. Social Psychology of Education, 20(11), 1–17.Google Scholar
  20. Hennig, M. M. (2010). Family dynamics for developing positive achievement motivation in women: The successful woman executive. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 208(1), 76–81.Google Scholar
  21. Horner, M. S. (1970). Femininity and successful achievement: A basic inconsistency. In J. Bardwick, E. M. Doovan, M. S. Horner, & D. Gutmann (Eds.), Feminine personality and conflict. Brooks-Coles: Belmont.Google Scholar
  22. Hu, X., & Li, M. L. (2017). 工程场域中的“从属者”:性别视角下的女性工程师研究(“followers” in the engineering field:A study of female engineers from gender perspective). Research in Higher Education of Engineering, 2017(2), 38–47.Google Scholar
  23. Hyde, J. S., & Kling, K. C. (2010). Women, motivation, and achievement. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 25(4), 364–378.Google Scholar
  24. Hyde, J. S., Lindberg, S. M., Linn, M. C., Ellis, A. B., & Williams, C. C. (2008). Gender similarities characterize math performance. Science, 321(5888), 494–495.Google Scholar
  25. Isaacs, B. (2001). Mystery of the missing women engineers: A solution. Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice, 127(2), 85–91.Google Scholar
  26. Jacobs, J. E., & Bleeker, M. M. (2004). Girls' and boys' developing interests in math and science: Do parents matter? New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 2004(106), 5–21.Google Scholar
  27. Jin, J., & Kong, H. B. (2008). 女性参与科学和工程教育及研究之现状(on women′s participation in the higher education and research in science and engineering). Research in Higher Education of Engineering, 2008(5), 78–81.Google Scholar
  28. Jing, H. B. (1995). 中国人成就动机性别差异研究(a study on gender differences in achievement motivation among Chinese). Journal of Psychological Science, 3, 180–182.Google Scholar
  29. Kaushik, N., & Rani, S. (2005). A comparative study of achievement motivation, home environment and parent child relationship of adolescents. Journal of Psychological Researches, 49, 189–194.Google Scholar
  30. Keller, J. M. (2010). Motivational design for learning and performance: The ARCS model approach. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  31. Kimura, D. (2002). Sex hormones influence human cognitive pattern. Neuro Endocrinology Letters, 23(Suppl 4), 67.Google Scholar
  32. Komalasari, Y., Supartha, W. G., Rahyuda, A. G., Ayu, I. G., & Dewi, M. (2017). Fear of success on women's career development: A research and future agenda. European Journal of International Management, 9(11), 60–65.Google Scholar
  33. Kosakowska-Berezecka, N., Jurek, P., Besta, T., & Badowska, S. (2017). Self-presentation strategies, fear of success and anticipation of future success among university and high school students. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1884.Google Scholar
  34. Leaper, C., & Van, S. R. (2008). Masculinity ideology, covert sexism, and perceived gender typicality in relation to young men's academic motivation and choices in college. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 9(3), 139–153.Google Scholar
  35. Li, J., Wang, Y., & Shi, T. (2013). 社会性别观念对女研究生学业成就的影响——基于第三期中国妇女社会地位调查之女大学生典型群体调查数据的分析(the influence of gender awareness on female graduate students' academic achievement: Findings from the third National Survey on the status of Chinese women). Collection of Women’s Studies, (3), 18–27.Google Scholar
  36. Lu, X. Y., & Bai, Q. Y. (2002). 传统的性别角色观念与女性成才(on traditional concept of sex role and the female accomplishment). Journal of Chong qing University of Posts and Telecommunications, 3(1), 89–92.Google Scholar
  37. Lu, G. S., & Zhang, X. L. (2008). 大学生成就动机、自我效能感与职业价值观的相关研究(an empirical investigation on achievement motivation, self-efficiency and occupation value of university students). Journal of Xi'an Jiaotong University (Social Sciences), 28(5), 82–86.Google Scholar
  38. Ma, Y., & Fu, G. Y. (2004). 学校教育对小学生性别刻板印象发展的影响与塑造(the influence of school education on students’ gender stereotypes in primary school). Elementary & Secondary Schooling Abroad, (2), 36–39.Google Scholar
  39. Maccoby, E. E., & Jacklin, C. N. (1978). The psychology of sex differences (Vol. 2). Stanford University press.Google Scholar
  40. Martin, A. I. (2004). School motivation of boys and girls: Differences of degree, differences of kind, or both? Australian Journal of Psychology, 56(3), 133–146.Google Scholar
  41. McClelland, D. C. (1951). Measuring motivation in phantasy: The achievement motive. In H. Guetakow (Ed.), Groups, Ieadership, and men (pp. 191–205). Pittsburgh: Carnegie Press.Google Scholar
  42. Mckellar, S. E., Marchand, A. D., Diemer, M. A., Malanchuk, O., & Eccles, J. S. (2018). Threats and supports to female students' math beliefs and achievement. Journal of Research on Adolescence.
  43. Meece, J. L., Glienke, B. B., & Burg, S. (2006). Gender and motivation. Journal of School Psychology, 44(5), 351–373.Google Scholar
  44. Ministry of Education of China. (2015). 中国教育统计年鉴(Educational statistics yearbook of China ( 2015 version)). Beijing: China Statistics Press.Google Scholar
  45. Nagarathanamma, B., & Rao, V. T. (2007). Achievement motivation and academic achievement of adolescent boys and girls. Indian Psychological Review, 68(3), 131.Google Scholar
  46. National Bureau of Statistics of China. (2016). 中国科技统计年鉴(China statistical yearbook on science and technology (2016 vesion)). Beijing: China Statistics Press.Google Scholar
  47. Ohizu, E., & Okoiye, O. (2014). Self-efficacy, emotional intelligence, achievement motivation and work-value orientation as predictors of career commitment of Bank workers in Imo state. IOSR Journal of Business and Management, 16(1), 55–62.Google Scholar
  48. Peng, P., Gao, Y. N., & Li, X. J. (2017). 性别秩序规训与工程教育女大学生(the disciplined female university students by the gender order of engineering education). Research in Higher Education of Engineering, 2017(6), 157–163.Google Scholar
  49. Ruan, X. L., Zhang, Q. L., & Du, X. M. (2008). 刻板印象威胁效应研究回顾与展望(a review of study on stereotype threat effect). Advances in Psychological Science, 836–844.Google Scholar
  50. Rudman, L. A., & Fairchild, K. (2004). Reactions to counterstereotypic behavior: The role of backlash in cultural stereotype maintenance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87(2), 157–176.Google Scholar
  51. Ružić, V., Matešić, K., & Štefanec, A. (2016). Gender differences in achievement motivation of employed adults. Suvremena Psihologija, 19(1), 81–89.Google Scholar
  52. Sassler, S., Glass, J., Levitte, Y., & Michelmore, K. M. (2017). The missing women in STEM? Assessing gender differentials in the factors associated with transition to first jobs. Social Science Research, 63, 192–208.Google Scholar
  53. Seaton, G. A. (2011). Belonging uncertainty and psychological capital: An investigation of antecedents of the leaky pipeline in STEM. Indiana: Purdue University Indianapolis.Google Scholar
  54. Sen, A. (1990). More than 100 million women are missing. The New York Review of Books, December 20, 61–66.Google Scholar
  55. Sen, A. (2003). Missing women—Revisited: Reduction in female mortality has been counterbalanced by sex selective abortions. British Medical Journal, 327(7427), 1297–1298.Google Scholar
  56. Shekhar, C., & Devi, R. (2012). Achievement motivation across gender and different academic majors. Journal of Educational & Developmental Psychology, 2(2), 105.Google Scholar
  57. Smeding, A. (2012). Women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM): An investigation of their implicit gender stereotypes and stereotypes' connectedness to math performance. Sex Roles, 67(11–12), 617–629.Google Scholar
  58. Smith, J. L., Lewis, K. L., Hawthorne, L., & Hodges, S. D. (2013). When trying hard isn't natural: women's belonging with and motivation for male-dominated STEM fields as a function of effort expenditure concerns. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39(2), 131–143.Google Scholar
  59. Song, Z. Z., Zhang, Y. X., & Chen, E. Z. (2007). 大学生成就动机的性别差异研究(studying on the sex difference of college students in achievement motivation). Journal of Hebei North University, 23(5), 74–76.Google Scholar
  60. Spence, J. T., & Hahn, E. D. (1997). The attitudes toward women scale and attitude change in college students. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21(1), 17–34.Google Scholar
  61. Steele, J., James, J. B., & Barnett, R. C. (2010). Learning in a man's world: Examining the perceptions of undergraduate women in male-dominated academic areas. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26(1), 46–50.Google Scholar
  62. Stockard, J. (2006). Gender socialization. In Handbook of the sociology of gender (pp. 215–227). Boston: Springer US.Google Scholar
  63. Swim, J. K., Aikin, K. J., Hall, W. S., & Hunter, B. A. (1995). Sexism and racism: Old-fashioned and modern prejudices. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68(2), 199–214.Google Scholar
  64. Tiedemann, J. (2000). Parents' gender stereotypes and teachers' beliefs as predictors of children's concept of their mathematical ability in elementary school. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92(1), 144–151.Google Scholar
  65. Upadhyay, S., & Tiwari, A. (2009). Achievement motivation across different academic majors. Indian Journal of Social Science Researches, 6(2), 128–132.Google Scholar
  66. Wang, J. L. (2011). 论个体性别社会化和性别角色表演(analysis of individual gender socialization and gender role performance). Journal of Yunnan Minzu University(Social Sciences), 28(5), 107–111.Google Scholar
  67. Wang, M. T., & Degol, J. L. (2017). Gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM): Current knowledge, implications for practice, policy, and future directions. Educational Psychology Review, 29(1), 119–140.Google Scholar
  68. Wei, G. Y., & Chen, X. F. (2005). 家庭文化对青少年性别刻板印象形成的影响(the impact of family culture on teenagers' gender stereotype). Collection of Women’s Studies, 2005(1), 31–38.Google Scholar
  69. Xiao, F. Q., & Feng, X. T. (2010). 性别平等与生育选择(gender equality and reproductive choice). China Youth Study, (7), 68–73.Google Scholar
  70. Xie, Y., & Shauman, K. A. (2005). Women in science : Career processes and outcomes. Social Forces, 34(4), 361–362.Google Scholar
  71. Yang, J., & Jiang, Y. Y. (2010). 大学生成就动机及其影响因素分析(analysis of achievement motivation of college student). Peking University Education Review, 8(1), 63–69.Google Scholar
  72. Yuan, L., & Yang, Y. (2007). 父母性别平等态度与孩子性别平等态度、性别角色的关系(the relationship between parents′ egalitarian gender role attitudes and the adolescent′s egalitarian gender role attitudes and the gender role). Journal of Guangdong Education Institute, 27(6), 45–48.Google Scholar
  73. Zhang, W. M. (2005). 大学生成就动机的性别差异和年级差异(research on differences of achievement motivation for college students with different sexes and grades). Journal of Guizhou Normal University (NaturalSciences), 23(3), 52–55.Google Scholar
  74. Zhang, Y. X. (2006). 独生子女家庭背景中女孩的性别角色社会化(gender socialization among girls in one-child family). Academic Journal of Zhongzhou, 2006(3), 131.Google Scholar
  75. Zhang, X., & Liu, W. L. (2013). 大学生成就动机与专业承诺关系的研究(the relationship between achievement motivation and professional commitment of college students). Journal of Guizhou Normal University (Natural Sciences), 31(6), 37–41.Google Scholar
  76. Zhang, L. L., & Zhen, H. H. (2011). 理工科女大学生专业学习的困境及分析(a study on the dilemma the female university students in science and technology encountered during their learning). Tsinghua Journal of Education, 32(5), 73–78.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Population and Development Studies, School of Public Policy and AdministrationXi’an Jiaotong UniversityXi’anPeople’s Republic of China

Personalised recommendations