The study followed the career choices of 137 female high school seniors from the class of 1990. Of those, by 1997 83 percent had chosen female-dominated or gender neutral fields. They cited concerns about family as the most significant reason. The findings were published in the August issue of Educational Research and Evaluation.
RTI worked with Michigan, Minnesota and Murdoch universities on the study.
"Despite the women's movement and more efforts in society to open occupational doors for women, concerns about balancing career and family continue to steer young women away from occupations in traditionally male-dominated fields, where their abilities and ambitions may lie," said Pam Frome, a researcher at RTI and principal investigator of the study. "Females are not only less likely to choose careers in male-dominated fields, but when they do, they are more likely than males to drop out of these fields."
Statistics show that only 11 percent of engineers, 29 percent of computer and match scientists, 31 percent of chemists and 29 percent of lawyers are women, the study said.
National statistics showed that by the end of the 1990s, women represented 46 percent of the national labor force but made up only 11 percent of engineers, 29 percent of computer and math scientists, 31 percent of chemists and 29 percent of lawyers.
"Many male-dominated fields are still inflexible in practice," Frome said. "The reality is that it is difficult to pursue and be successful in all of the same types of careers as men if women want to have families and are expected to be primary caregivers."
The study's authors said that if more women are to enter these fields employers need to provide benefits such as child care and flexible work schedules. They also suggested creating programs for young men focusing on taking on equal responsibility for children and home.