Women’s quest for romance and their scientific pursuits

UPDATE: In the comments, Marci send this link that goes into some detail on the flaws in the study. It’s a bit long, but well worth the read if you have time. Thanks Marci!

The girlfriend sent me this link and demanded a hat-tip (hot-tip?) for being a woman and in science:

The studies, funded in part by the National Science Foundation, were undertaken to determine why women, who have made tremendous progress in education and the workplace over the past few decades, continue to be underrepresented at the highest levels of STEM.

The research is described in the article, “Effects of Everyday Romantic Goal Pursuit on Women’s Attitudes toward Math and Science,” to be published in the September issue of .

Lead author Lora E. Park, PhD, UB associate professor of psychology and her co-authors, found converging support for the idea that when romantic goals are activated, either by environmental cues or personal choice, women — but not men — show less interest in STEM and more interest in feminine fields, such as the arts, languages and English.

Two quick points. First, the myriad studies I’ve seen along these lines rarely offer constructive suggestions on what I should do to change things. It is clearly a problem that women are often socialized away from science…but how should I change my behavior? And will it make a difference?

Second, such work should be complemented with deeper reporting and in-depth case studies. Numbers are important, but they don’t tell everything. Individuals don’t exist in general trends, and the girls who end up turning to arts and English made (at least partially) a conscious decision to do so. I’d like to hear from some of them and in their own words why they turned away from science. I suspect that that they don’t perceive their decision to be the tragedy that we do.

As TNC has argued repeatedly in the context of black Americans, it’s easy to look at this type of research, combine it with a few armchair statistics on women in science, and conclude that women turning away from science is nothing but a problem to be fixed. While on one level I agree with the characterization, it’s important not to rob people of agency and the capacity to decide for themselves.


  1. Here’s a post worth reading if you want to know more about the “romance and science don’t mix” study: http://mcshanahan.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/women-romantic-goals-and-science-the-evidence-just-isn%E2%80%99t-there/

    You made some really good points. I went from engineering to biochemistry to social science for a multitude of reasons, some having to do with disliking male-dominated environments (engineering), other having to do with larger life goals. I am hopeful that as a social scientist, my contributions to science and society will be worthwhile.

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