College majors that result in the most profitable careers tend to be the toughest, a fact that seems to be deterring women from majoring in economics or STEM disciplines. New research suggests that women opt out of potentially earning higher salaries for fear of receiving lower grades in college, a trend that does not seem to exist in men.
Claudia Goldin, an economics professor at Harvard University, found in a study that women who received B’s in an introductory economics course were half as likely to continue with the major as women who received A’s.
The men, on the other hand, were equally as likely to stick with economics regardless of receiving an A or a B. Only men who received a B- or less began to show significant disinterest in continuing with the major.
The question that arises is why women value higher grades more than men do. Some point to the fact that some STEM fields, such as computer science, are not welcoming to women, as these fields have a lack of female faculty members and are male-dominated in the workplace. Others suggest that women simply like the reassurance that an A brings them.
Conversely, there is the question of why men are not scared of receiving B’s. It’s possible that men are more confident of their abilities, not considering that grades reflect their true capabilities.
Some have also suggested that men are more aware of the rewards that come later in life–after all, U.S. college grads with STEM and economics degrees boast the highest median salaries.
Catherine Rampell, a columnist for the Washington Post, encourages women to “overcome our B-phobia.” She states that women “fear delivering imperfection in the ‘hard’ fields that they (and potential employers) genuinely love,” and that they should learn to abandon this fear and “change their myopic attitude of the significance of grades.”
Whatever the true cause of this "B-phobia," it adds a compelling new element to the quest to gain more women working in STEM fields.