By Emily Reynolds
Despite the fact that psychology students are more women than men and that women in clinical psychology have more women than men, women in psychology publish less, receive fewer citations, and are underrepresented in senior positions within university departments. This juxtaposition of over- and under-representation raises an interesting question about how people perceive gender roles in this area.
Guy A. Boysen and his team are investigating this question in a new study published in the Journal of Social Psychology. They find that people associate psychology more with femininity than masculinity – and that this can influence men’s and women’s attitudes towards work or study in the field.
In the first study, respondents who completed online surveys were asked what percentage of college students studying psychology were women and what percentage of psychologists were women. The results showed that people view psychology as a more women-centric profession and discipline, with participants estimating that 62% of psychology students and 59% of psychologists are women.
A second study looked more directly at people’s perception of what “female” or “male” psychology is like as a field. Both online participants and undergraduate students rated various degrees and careers on a scale from “extremely female” to “extremely male”. The breadth of the courses and professions listed has been taken into account because of its association with certain gender stereotypes – engineering, for example, is stereotypically viewed as a male profession, while nursing is viewed as female.
A major in psychology was classified by both groups as slightly more feminine than masculine and classified as significantly more feminine than typical “masculine” subjects such as engineering, economics and mathematics (although majors such as nursing and education were seen as more feminine than psychology). . Similarly, a career in psychology was seen as less feminine than a teacher or nurse, but significantly more feminine than a neuroscientist, historian, doctor, or business person.
In the next study, participants were asked to imagine a stereotypical person in one of three subjects at the university: engineering, nursing, or psychology. After participants displayed stereotypically masculine and feminine traits – for example, “gentle” for feminine or “selfish” for masculine – participants rated how well each word describes a person studying the assigned topic.
As expected, participants believed that both positive and negative male characteristics describe engineering students better than psychology students, while positive female characteristics describe psychology students better than engineers. The only difference between nursing and psychology was positive masculine characteristics: these were believed to be better suited to nursing majors than psychology students. This suggests that psychology, like nursing, is largely viewed as a “female” subject.
In a fourth study, participants said how satisfied they think men and women would be with a career in psychology. Participants who read that 75% women and 25% men rated psychology students rated men’s satisfaction as significantly lower than women’s. But those who read there showed an equal percentage of women and men showing no difference in the ratings of men’s and women’s satisfaction. A similar follow-up portion of the study also found that men were viewed as less likely than women to have their needs met through careers in psychology.
Overall, the results suggest that psychology is viewed as significantly more feminine than masculine and that it is assumed that the needs of men as a subject of study or occupation cannot be satisfied by it.
But is that really true? Future research might look at how men and women feel in psychology – just because a field is perceived as “feminine” doesn’t mean that men are necessarily less satisfied or fulfilled when they work in it. Whether men are actually discouraged from pursuing a career in psychology is another question that could be explored more closely.
It is also important to come back to the fact that men are overrepresented in certain positions. If psychology is seen as a “female” profession and if women outnumber men, why do men dominate positions of power? Finding ways that everyone can be successful and comfortable in psychology is crucial.
– Evidence of gender stereotype about psychology and its impact on the perception of fitness of men and women in the field
Emily Reynolds is an associate at BPS Biomedarticles