Student gender affects access to information on careers

woman in professional attire listens to other businesswomen

Professionals give female students different information about careers than male students, and the disparity may deter more women from their preferred career path, new research finds.

Female students are more than twice as likely to get information on work-life balance relative to male students. When students specifically ask about work-life balance, female students still receive more information than male students. This gender disparity can’t be explained by the preferences of the students themselves, since male students are more likely than female students to want this information.

The findings come in a new Upjohn Institute policy brief, “Informed Choices: Gender Gaps in Career Advice,” from Yana Gallen and Melanie Wasserman. The research was supported by the Institute’s Early Career Research Awards program.

In the study, college students interested in getting career information and advice reached out to professionals over a popular professional networking website. When students asked a broad question about the pros and cons of a professional’s career path, Gallen and Wasserman found that the professionals responded about as often to male and female students. But the responses differed depending on the gender of the student.

Not only did female students receive more information on work-life balance, but the content of these responses tended to increase students’ concern about the issue. Reasoning that professionals might offer unsolicited information on work-life balance because they believe that’s what female students care about, the researchers also included a question specifically asking about work-life balance. Female students got 28 percent more replies to this question than did male students. This gender differentiation was similar regardless of whether the professional was male or female.

Do female students want more information on work-life balance? After their study, Gallen and Wasserman surveyed students from the same university to understand what male and female students would want to discuss with these professionals. They found that male students want to spend 40 percent more time discussing work-life balance with a professional than do female students. The study and survey together suggest that the information professionals supply does not match the information students demand.

Beyond just a mismatch of information, the disparity could cause students to alter their career choices: after the experiment, female students reported being more deterred from their career path than did male students, with the emphasis on work-life balance a deciding factor.