Document Type

Working Paper

Date of this Version



This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced version of an article accepted for publication in Social Forces following peer review. The version of record Liu, Ran. 2020. "Do Family Privileges Bring Gender Equality? Instrumentalism and (De) Stereotyping of STEM Career Aspiration Among Chinese Adolescents." Social Forces, 99(1):230-254 is available online at:


When studying the persistent underrepresentation of women in science, engineering, technology, and mathematics (STEM) fields across different countries, some evidence shows a paradox of affluence: gender differences in STEM aspirations and outcomes are found to be more pronounced in more developed, post-industrial countries and among students from more affluent families. The argument of “indulging gendered selves” provides an explanation: students in more affluent settings are less compelled to pursue lucrative STEM careers and more encouraged to indulge gendered passions as a form of self-expression. Extending this argument, this paper uses nationally representative data from China to examine the effect of family privileges on adolescents’ STEM aspirations. Two distinct mechanisms are identified: instrumentalism, which considers the instrumental calculation of material security and economic returns in developing career aspirations, and (de)stereotyping, which considers whether family privileges cultivate or alleviate gender stereotypes. Findings show that less privileged girls such as ethnic minorities and those having rural hukou tend to have higher instrumental motivation to learn math, indicating an instrumentalism mechanism; on the other hand, girls with privileges such as higher parental education and more books at home enjoy more gender-egalitarian values, indicating a de-stereotyping mechanism. Moreover, Internet access at home as a privilege can foster gender stereotypes and decrease students’ motivation to learn math, and the latter association is stronger for girls than boys. Results suggest the importance of distinguishing the instrumentalism and (de)stereotyping mechanisms and the need for educational programs to refute gender stereotypes.


The author gratefully acknowledges support from the University of Pennsylvania’s Benjamin Franklin Fellowship, and from the Student Research Grant of the Center for the Study of Contemporary China, University of Pennsylvania.


gender, STEM education, family



Date Posted: 02 November 2021