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Sep 25, 2014 04:42 AM EDT

Black Women More Interested In STEM Fields than Whites, Study

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Black women are more likely to be interested in majoring in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) fields than white women, according to a new study by the American Psychological Association. However, these women are less likely to earn degrees in these fields.

The researchers said that black men and women, unlike their white counterparts, do not tend to think STEM fields are more masculine.

"Compared to white women, black women are less likely to hold gender-based stereotypes of STEM fields and, therefore, may be more likely to participate in these majors," said the study's lead author, Laurie O'Brien of Tulane UNIVERSITY, in a statement.

For the study, the researchers surveyed 1,108 students at universities across the United States. In one of the three surveys, the researchers questioned 838 college students (212 black), aged between 18 and 56 years, at four universities - one private, primarily white university in the South; one public, primarily white university in the Midwest; one private, historically black university in the South; and an ethnically diverse public university in the West.

The researchers found that 38 percent of black women declared a major in a STEM field when as compared to 19 percent of white women. Black women at the historically black university are more likely tend to participate in STEM majors than those at other institutions.

The researchers also conducted test to determine participants' subconscious beliefs about STEM fields being related mostly with men. The participants were asked to quickly classify STEM-related words (e.g., astronomy, biology, math) or liberal arts-related words (e.g., arts, English, literature) appearing on a computer screen with those related to men (e.g., boy, father, man) or women (e.g., girl, mother, woman).

The researchers found that regardless of their major or the type of university they attended, black women and men were less likely to associate STEM fields with masculine words than their white counterparts.

 "If black women start out in college more interested in STEM than white women, but are less likely to complete college with a STEM degree, this suggests that black women may face unique barriers, such as race-based stereotypes," said O'Brien. "These stereotypes may have more of a negative effect on black women than gender-based stereotype and should be studied further."

The finding is published online in the APA journal Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology.

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