SIDEBAR: Women's Persistence in Science After Graduation

Rayman and Brett (1995) found parental encouragement and attitudes about work and family to be important determinants of women's persistence in science after graduation. Other factors influencing persistence included encouragement from college teachers, having had a mentor as an undergraduate, having received career advice from faculty, having had an undergraduate research experience, and having a high interest in science.

Parental encouragement contributed significantly to whether or not a woman stayed in science after graduation. Encouragement from either mothers or fathers was important, and encouragement from both together was even better. Using a logistic regression model, the authors calculated that the odds of science majors staying in science after graduation were 2.6 times greater if one parent gave a lot of encouragement and 6.7 times greater if two parents gave a lot of encouragement. Family characteristics, such as parental education and occupation, were not related to persistence although they are related to choice of major in science or mathematics.

In this study, three groups of women who majored in science and mathematics as undergraduates at a leading women's college were characterized by persistence in science: "leavers" left the sciences immediately after graduation, "changers" switched to other occupations sometime after graduation, and "stayers" remained in the sciences.

Among the three groups, stayers were most likely to have received encouragement from their parents, especially their mothers, to pursue a career in science. They were least likely to believe their current occupation was compatible with family life.

Changers were most likely to have received a lot of encouragement from mothers and to have had mothers in science or health-related occupations. They were also more likely to have moved for a spouse, to have worked less than full time to provide caregiving, and to be in nonscience occupations that were compatible with family life. Both leavers and changers were more likely than stayers to believe that mothers with infants should not work at all. Changers were less likely than the other two groups to have had encouragement from mothers to pursue a career in science, to have had encouragement from college teachers, to have had a mentor, to have received career advice from faculty, and to have had undergraduate research experiences.

Leavers were less likely than the other two groups to have had a father or mother in science; to have had a mother who went to college; to have received a lot of encouragement from mothers, fathers, or college teachers to major in or pursue a career in science; to have received career advice from advisors; to have done undergraduate research; and to have a high interest in science.


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