Do Social Comparisons Matter for University Major Choices? A Longitudinal Study From a Gender Perspective

Luise von Keyserlingk, Michael Becker, Malte Jansen


In Germany, male students are largely overrepresented in STEM majors at university. Gender differences in important predictors of major choices, namely self-concept and interest in math or science have been discussed to explain the gender gap in STEM. For both, self-concept and interest, social comparisons with peers are important (big-fish-little-pond effect - BFLPE). Recent findings have further shown indirect long-term BFLPEs in high school on STEM major choice at university through students’ self-concept and interest. We built on these findings and investigated if differential BFLPEs on females’ and males’ self-concepts and interests in high school could help understand gendered enrollment processes in math intensive university majors. We used a subsample (N = 2182) of a German longitudinal study and used data from two measurement points (T1: 12th grade; T2: two years after high school graduation). Results showed gender differences in math self-concept, math achievement, and enrollment in math intensive university majors. The BFLPE on self-concept, interest and university major choice did not differ between female and male students. These findings point to gender differences in the means of relevant predictors of university major choice, but to gender similarity in the underlying processes of self-concept formation and university major choice.        


big-fish-little-pond effect; university major choice; gender; longitudinal data

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