A new study discovers sex hormones appear to help drive career choices as they strongly influence a person’s interests.

“Our results provide strong support for hormonal influences on interest in occupations characterized by working with things versus people,” said Penn State researchers.

Some occupations typically attract individuals who possess a line of interest different from the general population. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers are often included in this classification.

In the study, researchers assessed teenagers and young adults with congenital adrenal hyperplasia — a genetic condition — and their siblings who did not have CAH. People with CAH are exposed to more androgen — a type of male sex hormone — than is normal while in the uterus.

Females with CAH are genetically female and are treated as females, but their interests tend to be more similar to stereotypically male ones.

In the study, investigators discovered females with CAH were significantly more interested in careers related to “things” compared to careers related to “people” (as compared to females that were not exposed to CAH).

Study findings are reported in the journal Hormones and Behavior.

“We took advantage of a natural experiment,” said psychologist Sheri A. Berenbaum. “We’re suggesting that these interests are pretty early developing.”

Females without CAH had less interest than males in occupations related to things, such as engineer or surgeon, and more interest in careers focused on interacting with people, such as social worker or teacher.

There was no significant difference reported between males with CAH and males without the condition.

Researchers believe the normal biological absence of androgen may be a reason that fewer women choose STEM careers.

“We found there is a biological influence on that interest toward things, so maybe women aren’t going into STEM careers because what they’re interested in — people — isn’t consistent with an interest in STEM careers,” said Beltz.

“Maybe we could show females ways in which an interest in people is compatible with STEM careers.”

Source: Penn State