Men and Things, Women and People: A Meta-Analysis of Sex Differences in Interests
Rong Su et al.; 2009
The magnitude and variability of sex differences in vocational interests were examined in the present meta-analysis for Holland’s (1959, 1997) categories (Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional), Prediger’s (1982) Things–People and Data–Ideas dimensions, and the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) interest areas. Technical manuals for 47 interest inventories were used, yielding 503,188 respondents. Results showed that men prefer working with things and women prefer working with people, producing a large effect size (d = 0.93) on the Things–People dimension. Men showed stronger Realistic (d = 0.84) and Investigative (d = 0.26) interests, and women showed stronger Artistic (d = -0.35), Social (d = -0.68), and Conventional (d = -0.33) interests. Sex differences favoring men were also found for more specific measures of engineering (d = 1.11), science (d = 0.36), and mathematics (d = 0.34) interests. Average effect sizes varied across interest inventories, ranging from 0.08 to 0.79. The quality of interest inventories, based on professional reputation, was not differentially related to the magnitude of sex differences. Moderators of the effect sizes included interest inventory item development strategy, scoring method, theoretical framework, and sample variables of age and cohort. Application of some item development strategies can substantially reduce sex differences. The present study suggests that interests may play a critical role in gendered occupational choices and gender disparity in the STEM fields.