Do Faculty Serve as Role Models? The impact of instructor gender on female students

Eric Bettinger
Bridget Long


Although women have matched or surpassed men in many educational outcomes, female students remain much less likely to major in quantitative, technical, and science-related fields. This under-representation may have serious implications for women's returns to education, occupational segregation, and earnings inequality. To address this problem, some suggest increasing mentoring opportunities for female students by hiring more women faculty members. This paper examines whether the presence of same-gender faculty members affects student interest in a subject using a comprehensive, longitudinal dataset of nearly 54,000 students. To address selection issues, we employ an instrumental variables strategy. The results suggest that female instructors do positively influence course selection and major choice in some disciplines thus supporting a possible role model effect. The findings provide insight into the potential impacts of policies designed to increase female representation on college faculties.


Women, Teachers, Womens studies, Gender roles, Role models, Outcomes of education, College students, Engineering education, Student interests, Course selection


This paper investigate if the presence of female faculty member in female students’ early academic career affect their decision of taking additional course or major in the particular subject taught by female faculty members. Longitudinal data set of 54,000 students allows to estimate impact of faculty on students’ decisions. The authors measured the effect of female faculty role model as (1)additional courses the student took in the subject (2)the total number of subsequence credit hours and (3) major choice (p. 156). The result of ordinary least squares suggest that the early encounter with female faculty members slightly increase the odds of a female student’s major choice in the subject. However, there was inconsistency between academic disciplines. In biology and physics, students who initially had female professors were less likely to take additional courses in the subjects while the effect of female faculty members was positive in geology, mathematics and statistics. In humanities and social science, presence of female faculty members increased the likelihood of either student took additional course (psychology, sociology, journalism, communications, and education) (p. 156). To sum up, female faculty can serve as role model who increase student interest in a subject.

APA Citation

Bettinger, E. P., & Long, B. T. (2005). Do faculty serve as role models? The impact of instructor gender on female students. American Economic Review, 95(2), 152-157.

About the Study

Links to Article
Publication Type Journal Article
In Publication The American Economic Review
Type of Research Quantitative
Research Design Other
Intervention/Areas of Study Other
Level of Analysis Student-level
Specific Populations Examined Females, males, or other genders, First-year students, Undergraduates
Peer-Reviewed Yes
Specific Institutional Characteristics of Interest 4-year Institution, Bachelors-granting
Specific Course or Program Characteristics Arts and humanities, Formal sciences, Natural sciences, Social sciences, STEM
Outcome Variables of Interest
Student Sample Size 500 +
Citing Articles,50&sciodt=0,50&hl=en