Faculty Profiles

Maria Charles
Ph.D., Stanford University
Research Interests

I am a Professor of Sociology at the University of California – Santa Barbara, UCSB, where I am also the Director of the Broom Center for Demography and an affiliated professor in the Feminist Studies Department. My research mostly explores gender inequalities around the world and the cultural and structural forces that sustain them.

The contours of gender inequality vary a great deal across time and space. Sometimes differences are in the expected direction, with reputably gender-progressive societies showing much greater gender equality, and sometimes they are not. For example, most people would be surprised to learn that women’s representation among science degree holders is much higher in many majority-Muslim countries than in societies like Sweden and the United States. I explore contextual and intersectional differences in diverse inequality forms through large-scale survey research. Recent projects, with graduate students and other collaborators, include analyses of girls’ and boys’ attitudes toward science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) around the world, the gendered transmission of care work from parents to children, and beliefs about gender equality in 34 African countries. I have just completed co-editing a volume on Gender and STEM with UCSB colleague, Sarah Thébaud.

My comparative research on gender inequality has yielded three main theoretical insights so far. First, I have identified “male primacy” and “gender essentialism” as two empirically distinct tenets of gender ideology. I argue that gender essentialism (cultural beliefs about innate gender difference) is easily reconciled with the liberal individualistic understandings of equality that predominate in Western industrial countries and the world polity today, while male primacy is not. Second, I have shown that different forms of gender inequality operate according to distinct causal logics. Liberal-egalitarian cultural ideals help delegitimize inequalities based on overt exclusion and hierarchical sorting of men and women, but they do little to undermine inequalities that arise out of gender-essentialist stereotypes and identities. Third, I have argued that a strong cultural emphasis on self-expression in affluent democracies amplifies the effects of gender-essentialist stereotypes on educational and occupational outcomes. For example, cultural ideals of “doing what we love” may lead more young people to base career choices on stereotypes about what men and women love.

I have published extensively on the phenomenon of gender segregation, most recently on the ideological and organizational factors that contribute to woman's underrepresentation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics ("STEM") fields around the world. My book with David Grusky, Occupational Ghettos: The Worldwide Segregation of Women and Men (Stanford University Press) received the Max Weber Award for Distinguished Scholarship in 2005. And the article "Indulging our Gendered Selves? Sex Segregation by Field of Study in 44 Countries" (American Journal of Sociology, coauthored with Karen Bradley), received the 2011 Distinguished Article Award from the American Sociological Association's Sex and Gender Section.

I am an elected member of the Sociological Research Association and the recipient of numerous research awards and grants for comparative work on gender segregation and gender belief systems around the world. Before arriving at UCSB, I served on the Sociology faculty at UC San Diego, and I was a postdoctoral researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. I received a Ph.D. in Sociology from Stanford University, and Bachelor’s degrees from UCSB in Environmental Studies and Political Science. My CV is here.

Selected publications

Charles, Maria. 2017. “Venus, Mars, and Math: Gender, Societal Affluence and Eighth Graders’ Aspirations for STEMSOCIUS 3:1-16.

Charles, Maria and Sarah Thébaud, eds. Forthcoming. Gender and STEM: Understanding Segregation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Basel: MDPI Press. Also published as a special issue of Social Sciences journal, 2017.

Anna H. Chatillon, Maria Charles, and Karen Bradley. Forthcoming. “Gender Ideology” in Handbook of the Sociology of Gender, Barbara J. Risman, Carissa Froyum, and William Scarborough, eds. NY: Springer.

Charles, Maria, Corrie Ellis and Paula England. 2015. “Is There a Caring Class? Intergenerational Transmission of Care Work.” Sociological Science 2:527-43.

Charles, Maria, Bridget Harr, Erin Cech and Alexandra Hendley. 2014. “Who Likes Math Where? Gender Differences in Eighth-graders’ Attitudes around the World.” International Studies in Sociology of Education 24:85-112.

Charles, Maria and Jeffrey D. Lundy. 2013. “The Local Joneses: Household Consumption and Income Inequality in Large Metropolitan Areas.” Research in Social Stratification and Mobility 34:14-29.

Charles, Maria. 2011. “What Gender is Science?Contexts 22-28 (Spring).

Charles, Maria. 2011. “A World of Difference: International Trends in Women’s Economic Status.” Annual Review of Sociology 37:355-72.

Charles, Maria and Erin Cech. 2010. “Beliefs about Maternal Employment.” Pp. 147-74 in Dividing the Domestic: Men, Women, and Household Work in Cross-National Perspective, edited by Judith Treas and Sonja Drobnič. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Charles, Maria and Karen Bradley. 2009. “Indulging Our Gendered Selves? Sex Segregation by Field of Study in 44 Countries.” American Journal of Sociology 114:924-76. **** Distinguished Article Award from the American Sociological Association’s Section on Sex and Gender, 2011. **** Distinguished Scholarship Award Honorable Mention, 2010, Pacific Sociological Association, 2010

Charles, Maria. 2008. “Culture and Inequality: Identity, Ideology, and Difference in ‘Post-ascriptive Society’.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 619:41-58.

Charles, Maria and David Grusky. Occupational Ghettos: The Worldwide Segregation of Women and Men. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 2004 (2005 in paperback). **** Max Weber Award for Distinguished Scholarship (American Sociological Association Section on Organizations, Occupations, and Work), 2005.

Charles, Maria. 2003. “Deciphering Sex Segregation: Vertical and Horizontal Inequalities in Ten Countries.” Acta Sociologica 46:267-87.

Charles, Maria and Karen Bradley. 2002. “Equal but Separate? A Cross-National Study of Sex Segregation in Higher Education.” American Sociological Review 67:573-599.

Charles, Maria, Marlis Buchmann, Susan Halebsky, Jeanne Powers, and Marisa Smith. 2001. “The Context of Women’s Market Careers: A Cross-National Study.” Work and Occupations 28:371-96. **** 2002 Nominee, Rosabeth Moss Kanter Award for Excellence in Work-Family Research.

Charles, Maria. 2000. “Divisions of Labour: Social Groups and Occupational Allocation.” European Sociological Review 16:27-42.

Grusky, David B. and Maria Charles. 1998. “The Past, Present, and Future of Sex Segregation Methodology.” Demography 35:497-504.

Charles, Maria and David B. Grusky. 1995. "Models for Describing the Underlying Structure of Sex Segregation." American Journal of Sociology 100:931-71.

Charles, Maria. 1992. "Cross-National Variation in Occupational Sex Segregation." American Sociological Review 57:483-502.

Teaching Areas

I teach courses on social inequalities (gender, class, race) and quantitative research methods at the graduate and undergraduate levels.

Course Listing

Contact Information

SSMS 3421 (Sociology Department) and North Hall 1052 (Broom Center)
office hours
Wednesday 9:30-11:30 a.m.