Mar 142014

Do women “choose” to leave science, or does the daily grind of discrimination, lose-lose tradeoffs, and culture clashes drive us away? Do we opt out, or are we pushed out, to use the language of sociologist Pamela Stone? The data are still rolling in, but today in Science, we show how the more popular opting-out account obscures the more likely gender-bias explanation–even in Science publications. [pdf]

As the research of my colleagues and me shows, middle-class European Americans readily cite personal choices as the cause of people’s actions, but are slower to see how situational affordances and constraints shape behavior. This “choice bias” arises from the European American cultural understanding of people as independent, autonomous, and in control. In contrast, most other cultures of the world understand people to be interdependent, connected, and constantly adjusting to their situations.

My colleagues and I recently caught the insidious “choice bias” at work in a Science publication called Science Careers, which targets young scientists on the hunt for jobs. Today Science published our Letter pointing out the bias, as well as the response from the journalist who penned the original article. Kudos to Science for publishing both Letters, for together they illustrate how even well-meaning and well-informed people often fail to recognize the choice bias and its insidious effects.

Also, many thanks to my coauthors: Karen S. Cook, Shelley J. Correll, Hazel Rose Markus, Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, Carol B. Muller (who brought the Science Careers article to our attention), Jennifer L. Raymond, and Caroline Simard.

Science-2014-Choice and Bias

  3 Responses to “Our SCIENCE Letter: “Choice” or Gender Bias?”

  1. – this article is pretty clearly not about choice.

  2. Well done! Keep it up. We need a new way to work that doesn’t leave children behind. It’s blindingly obvious.

    When our society values children and parenting, women and good men as well, will make more progress in science and in leadership elsewhere. We have everything we need to redesign the way we work. The only thing holding us back is an outdated paradigm which doesn’t recognize our interconnectedness and the widespread benefits of living whole lives.

  3. I agree. I have always said that choices are made in a context. And if that context is hostile to women, then the choice is not really made freely. I believe most women are pushed out.

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