After Leaving Computing, New Majors Tend to Differ by Gender – CRN

December 19, 2016 at 7:22 am 5 comments

I found these differences fascinating, though I’m not sure what to make of them.  Once leaving computing, students head to different majors with a big gender difference.  Only 5% of women go into an Engineering field after CS, while 32% of men go into some form of Engineering.  Why is that?

As computing departments across the U.S. wrestle with increased enrollment, it is important to recognize that not everyone who becomes a computing major stays a computing major. In 2014, CERP collected data from a cohort of U.S. undergraduate students who agreed to be contacted for follow-up surveys in 2015. While most of the students surveyed remained computing majors (96%), some students changed to a non-computing major. As shown in the graphic above, students in our sample moved to a variety of majors, and the type of new major tended to differ by gender. Most men (69%) who left a computing major switched to engineering, math/statistics, or physical science majors. On the other hand, most women (53%) tended to move to social sciences, or humanities/arts. These data are consistent with existing social science research indicating women tend to choose fields that have clear social applications, such as the social sciences, arts, and humanities. CERP’s future analyses will explore why women, versus men, say they are leaving computing for other fields.

Source: After Leaving Computing, New Majors Tend to Differ by Gender – CRN

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bonnie  |  December 19, 2016 at 8:48 am

    The arts and humanities have about the same amount of social relevance as the sciences and engineering. I think the bigger difference is that men are going to majors with as much or more math than computer science while women are going to majors with a lot less math. Men are also moving to other majors that have lots of men in them, while women are moving to majors with lots of women in them. That matches my experience – many men switch out because they find programming boring while many women switch out due to lack of confidence in their math and technical abilities, as well as wanting to be in majors where they don’t feel isolated in a sea of men.

  • 2. Mark Ahrens  |  December 19, 2016 at 8:54 am

    IMO, since this early conclusion is based on 4% attrition, we need to wait until years 2, 3, 4 and look at a larger crosscut of the people leaving CS to draw any conclusions about gender disparities.

  • 3. Michael S. Kirkpatrick  |  December 19, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    I’m wary to try to interpret anything from this data. The n=19 for both men and women come from less than 1% of the original population surveyed. Moreover, this trend happened: They 2915/4061 agreed to be followed up; only 1026 did. Of the 1026, 942 were in computing in 2014 and 902 were still in computing in 2015.

    So to be included in this analysis of 942 students, they had to initially agree to be followed and actually complete the follow-up. Both of those characteristics suggest to me that these were likely to be students who were confident that they would succeed in computing and are actually succeeding. This data set seems very skewed to me, and I think extrapolating from it is dangerous.

    What happened among the other >3000 students would be much more interesting and insightful.

  • 4. Alan Fekete  |  December 19, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    Even when we have many more data points, I think that it will not be especially notable that the new majors differ between men and women who leave CS. It would be more meaningful to explore whether the destinations for men/women leaving CS differ from the destinations for men/women in the general population who are choosing their majors (as we already know that choice of major is highly gendered).

  • 5. Katie Cunningham  |  December 27, 2016 at 5:22 pm

    Thinking about where students go when they leave a CS major makes me think that the development of Information Science or other CS-adjacent type majors can be thought of as a method to “catch” female or URM students who aren’t feeling confident in traditional CS. At the same time, they might pull female students from traditional CS in the first place if they’re seen as a more comfortable place to be.


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