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Sex Differences in Success Expectancies and Causal Attributions: Is This Why Fewer Women Become Physicians?

Robert Fiorentine
Social Psychology Quarterly
Vol. 51, No. 3 (Sep., 1988), pp. 236-249
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2786922
Page Count: 14
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Sex Differences in Success Expectancies and Causal Attributions: Is This Why Fewer Women Become Physicians?
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Abstract

Toward the larger goal of understanding why women are underrepresented among physicians, this investigation assesses the contribution of the cognitive approach in explaining the lower rate of female persistence in undergraduate premed programs. In examining high school students about to embark on a premed course, the author found that females do not attribute their high school performance to a different configuration of ability, effort, or task difficulty. Females are slightly more likely than males to attribute their high school grades to luck, but this tendency seems to have no effect on the expectancy of success in the premed program. Nor are there significant sex differences in the use of attributions to ability, effort, task difficulty, or luck among male and female premed students, even though females earn lower grades in the required premed courses. The slight differences that do exist suggest that female premed students are more likely to internalize their successes and to externalize their failures, an attributional pattern that should result in higher, not lower, levels of persistence. A logistic regression analysis, however, indicates that none of the causal attributions have any effect on persistence for either males or females. Yet female premed students rate themeselves lower on a variety of academic and social skills and have less confidence in their ability to perform the role of physician. This lower level of confidence explains some of the premed persistence gap. The implications of these findings are discussed.

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