Feminine Names and Science, Revisited

Years ago, I wrote about a study by David Figlio that found girls with very feminine names are less likely to study science.

I hadn’t read the study — it hadn’t been published yet — but I wondered how much of that outcome could be blamed on parental bias:

To me, it seems just as likely that parents who bestow ultra-feminine names have different views on gender than those who prefer masculine-sounding girl names. Therefore, couldn’t underlying parental bias be the root cause of both the names and the attitudes toward science?

About a week ago, I found the following in a post on baby names at the TIME Healthland blog:

When Figlio studied sisters who were both good at math, he discovered that those with more linguistically feminine names were more likely to shy away from math and science and stick with humanities classes compared to their siblings with linguistically androgynous names. If you’re set on your daughter Anastasia becoming a doctor, you’ll have to be extra vigilant to fight any cultural stereotypes. “She may become the English major and her sister, Jordan, may become the bio major,” says Figlio. “That’s happening at rates that are too big to ignore.”

If this is the same study, then my parental bias theory is out the window. :)

Here’s what Figlio told the John Tierney of the TierneyLab blog about a year after my post:

In correlational analysis…one must always be concerned that there is some third factor that could be associated with both the name and the outcome. My work on siblings directly studies kids from the same families but who happen to have linguistically different names. (There is a third paper, “Why Barbie Says ‘Math is Hard,’ that shows that sisters with less linguistically-feminine names are more likely to take advanced math and science courses.)

Just out of curiosity, do you know of any sister-sets in which one sister is a math/science person and the other is not? If so, what are their names?


5 thoughts on “Feminine Names and Science, Revisited

  1. Interesting hypothesis.

    One sibset of two sisters that I know immediately comes to mind for me.

    Catrin – the science major
    Ffion – the non-science major

    They are in the UK.

    I also know an Amanda who went into the sciences but she was the only girl with two brothers as siblings.

  2. My cousin Lisa is a civil engineer, her sister Lori is a Spanish teacher, and their sister Amy is a cubicle wonk (I don’t exactly know what she does, but it’s sort of generic business type stuff). My sister Susie is a mechanic, and I’m a data archivist. My friend Kelly is a lawyer and her sister Dana is a physical therapist. My friend Jennifer is a music teacher; her sister Susie is co-owner of an aquarium business. I know sisters who are Sarah (vet tech), Amy (biology lab assistant), and Janelle (cubicle wonk). Since we’re all Xers, I think part of the study may have to factor in generations, unless you have sisters Anastasia and Jane.

  3. My best friend, Andrea, has always been more science-inclined than her sister Lindsay, who is studying to become a curator.

  4. I tutor math, but I studied French language and lit in college (I started off pre-med) and have always been a strong reader and speller. My (half-) sister is a weak reader but a strong math student, but is more stereotypically feminine and says she wants to be a Kindergarten teacher. I have a tomboy name and hers is an ultra-feminine name: Isabelle. I think our genetics (I take after our mother, she takes after her father) play a larger part than our names.

  5. I majored in math at college, and I’m Katherine. My sister, Amelia, is studying speech language therapy and anthropology right now. Her name is more girly, although she’s been girlier from birth, practically.

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