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Gender Across Engineering Majors

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Issues of Diversity

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.776.1 - 12.776.14



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Paper Authors


Moshe Hartman Retired

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Moshe Hartman (B.A., Hebrew University of Jerusalem; M.A. and Ph.D., University of Michigan) is retired Professor of Sociology from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and was co-p.i. on the NSF grant on which this paper is based. His research has centered on demography, stratification, and Jewish studies. His articles have been published in Journal of Engineering Education, Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, American Journal of Sociology, International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Population Research and Policy Review, Journal of Contemporary Religion, and others.He co-authored the paper winning Best Paper Award from WIED and Pic IV for ASEE, 2005.

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Harriet Hartman Rowan University

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Harriet Hartman (B.A., UCLA; M.A., University of Michigan; Ph.D., Hebrew University of Jerusalem) is Professor of Sociology at Rowan University, and was principal investigator of the NSF grant on which this paper is based. Her articles have appeared in Journal of Engineering Education and the Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, Journal of Marriage and Family, Compare, Sociology of Religion, and Social Identities among others. Her co-authored paper won the Best Paper Award from the ASEE WIED and Pic IV in 2005. Her research interests include gender roles, Jewish studies, family and immigration.

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Jennifer Kadlowec Rowan University

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Jennifer Kadlowec is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Rowan University. She received her BS in physics at Baldwin-Wallace College and her MS and PhD in mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan. She has been actively involved in ASEE, serving in officer roles in the Mechanics and ERM Divisions.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Gender Differences Across Engineering Majors


Certain engineering majors attract more women than others, and this seems to be fairly universal. Bio-engineering, biomedical engineering, chemical engineering, civil/environmental engineering lead in the proportion of women enrolling and persisting, while mechanical and electrical and computer engineering have the lowest proportions. Engineering programs that have increased their proportion of women usually incorporate more of the former specializations, or have added in a new program of this kind. Little research has been done comparing differences between the women in these different kinds of majors. This paper contributes to filling this gap by addressing how the women in majors that are more commonly attracting women differ from women in majors with proportionately fewer women. The paper draws on data aggregated from surveys collected during the last six years from engineering students at Rowan University. It compares women in mechanical and electrical/computer engineering, to women in chemical and civil/environmental engineering, where the proportions of women are larger. Students are compared in terms of their academic and family backgrounds, whether they come in with different orientations to engineering (including engineering self-confidence and expectations from the engineering degree), and whether they exhibit different levels or types of satisfaction with the engineering major. Five hypotheses are offered; most of them are not supported by the data. Background differences, differences in general academic and math/science self-confidence, attributions of success, and expectations about the engineering degree do not result in the expected differences. Women do differ with respect to engineering self-confidence. Results are also compared to men in the respective majors.


Women are not distributed equally across the various engineering disciplines. According to data collected by the American Society for Engineering Education,

They are well represented in disciplines such as agricultural, biomedical, chemical, environmental, industrial/manufacturing, and metallurgical and materials engineering. Women account for between 32 and 43 percent of bachelor’s degrees in each of these fields…Women are less interested in the largest disciplines, including aerospace, computer, computer science, electrical, electrical/computer, and mechanical engineering. Female students range from 11 to 17 percent representation in these fields. These six disciplines make up 63 percent of all [engineering] bachelor’s degrees. The solution to attracting more women to engineering will certainly require a review of this equation. (Gibbons4:1)

The growth of computer engineering, in which men received over 87% of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2005, is a major contributing factor to the decline in women’s overall representation in engineering degrees, even though their absolute numbers in engineering are growing2.

Students’ choice of majors has been linked to early socialization experiences from parents, teachers, academic preparation and success, work experience, and play (summarized recently by

Hartman, M., & Hartman, H., & Kadlowec, J. (2007, June), Gender Across Engineering Majors Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2266

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2007 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015