Study of the Day: Gender Gap in College Leads Women to Prioritize Work

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New research suggests that women's perceptions of the dating market, not their job opportunities, may be driving their career ambitions.

Study of the Day
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PROBLEM: These days, American women receive 57 percent of all bachelor's and 60 percent of all master's degrees in college. Are there repercussions to having this gender imbalance on campus?

METHODOLOGY: Researchers led by University of Texas at San Antonio professor Kristina Durante examined historical data on the ratio of single men to single women in each U.S. state and Washington D.C. They also looked into the desire of hundreds of female college students to focus on career or family after they led them to believe that there were either more men or less men on campus by reading one of two news article about the student population.

RESULTS: As bachelors became scarce in college, the percentage of women in high-paying careers increased, women delayed having children, and had fewer kids when they finally started a family. As for the experiment, when women read that there were fewer men than women on campus, they became more motivated to pursue ambitious careers than to start a family.

CONCLUSION: The gender ratio dramatically alters women's choices about career and family. When men are scant, women delay having children and pursue high-paying careers.

IMPLICATION: An unconscious but important factor in women's career aspirations is their perception of how easy or difficult it is to find a husband.

SOURCE: The full study, "Sex Ratio and Women's Career Choice: Does a Scarcity of Men Lead Women to Choose Briefcase Over Baby?" is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

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