Recent studies have proved there is little difference between the cognitive capabilities of men and women when it comes to so-called “masculine” subjects such as math, but there is still a lack of a female presence in academic majors and activities relating to science, technology, engineering and math, also known as STEM. And although women have made leaps and bounds in the workforce and the classroom over the past 50 years, new studies from University at Buffalo found the reason for this lag is rooted in something eerily traditional: women distance themselves from these areas out of fear of being romantically undesired.

Lead author Lora E. Park said in a University at Buffalo release that women are taught from a young age that, in order to be considered attractive in society, pursuing an interest in masculine fields is something to shy away from:

“Gender scripts discourage women from appearing intelligent in masculine domains, like STEM … and in fact, studies show that women who deviate from traditional gender norms, such as succeeding in male-typed jobs, experience backlash for violating societal expectations. On the other hand, men in gender-incongruent occupations don’t experience the same degree of backlash as women do… When the goal to be romantically desirable is activated, even by subtle situational cues, women report less interest in math and science. One reason why this might be is that pursuing intelligence goals in masculine fields, such as STEM, conflicts with pursuing romantic goals associated with traditional romantic scripts and gender norms.”