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Women with a preference for more intelligent partners are less likely to show interest in male-dominated fields such as math and science, a new study has found.
The research builds upon previous findings which found that thinking about romantic goals affected women’s attitudes toward careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
“What we found is that not all women reacted equally to these romantic goal primes,” said study’s lead author Lora Park, from the University at Buffalo in the US.
“Women who had a traditional romantic partner preference of wanting to date someone smarter than themselves were the ones who distanced themselves the most from STEM fields when they thought about romantic goals,” Park said.
The women in the study also performed worse on a math test and tended to show less identification with math, an academic discipline at the base of science and technology careers.
The diluted interest and identification is specific to the perceived masculine fields of math and science and is not a general effect.
Participants did not show less interest in careers often considered feminine, such as those in social work or elementary education, said Park.
“This suggests there might be something strategic about the lack of interest or perhaps women are downplaying their interests in these fields,” she said.
“On the other hand, it could be a process they’re not even conscious of. It could be an automatic reaction,” Park said.
“In general terms, women have made many advancements, but in certain fields of STEM they haven’t made that much progress,” she said.
The research published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology includes four studies.
One study involving more than 900 participants established a link between a preference for dating smarter partners and traditional gender roles.
Women show a greater preference for dating smarter partners compared to men and the more they endorsed this preference the more traditional they were in their gender roles.
The three additional studies examined math performance, math identification and interest in STEM when thinking about romantic goals.
Each activated a romantic goal and across the studies, a pattern emerged that showed worse math performance, less identification with math and less interest in STEM careers for those women with traditional romantic partner preferences.
Women who did not have this partner preference tended to show better STEM outcomes, suggesting the more non-traditional preference might contribute to greater interest in STEM, researchers said.