What Determines Feelings of Belonging and Majoring in an Academic Field? Isolating Factors by Comparing Psychology and Philosophy

Current Research in Behavioral Sciences 4:100097 (2023)
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Feelings of belonging are integral in people’s choice of what career to pursue. Women and men are disproportionately represented across careers, starting with academic training. The present research focuses on two fields that are similar in their history and subject matter but feature inverse gender gaps—psychology (more women than men) and philosophy (more men than women)—to investigate how theorized explanations for academic gender gaps contribute to feelings of belonging. Specifically, we simultaneously model the relative contribution of theoretically relevant individual differences (empathizing, systematizing, and intellectual combativeness) as well as life goals (prioritization of family, money, and status) to feelings of belonging and majoring in psychology or philosophy. We find that men report higher intellectual combativeness than women, and intellectual combativeness predicts feelings of belonging and majoring in philosophy over psychology. Although systematizing and empathizing are predictive of belonging and, in turn, majoring in psychology and philosophy, respectively, when other factors are taken into account, women and men do not differ in empathizing and systematizing. Women, more than men, report prioritizing having a family, wealth, and status in choosing a career, and these directly or indirectly feed into feelings of belonging and majoring in psychology, in contrast to prior theory. Together, these findings suggest that students’ perceptions of their own combativeness and the extent to which they desire money and status play essential roles in women’s feeling they belong in psychology and men’s feeling they belong in philosophy.



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Ulf Hlobil
Concordia University
Katharina Nieswandt
Concordia University

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