Pathways to Science and Engineering Bachelor's Degrees for Men and Women
Sociological Science 1: 41-48, 2014
8 Pages Posted: 6 Nov 2013 Last revised: 14 Jul 2016
Date Written: 2014
Despite the striking reversal of the gender gap in educational attainment and the near gender parity in math performance, women pursue science and engineering (S/E) degrees at much lower rates than their male peers do. Current efforts to increase the number of women in these fields and close the gender gap focus on different life-course periods but lack a clear understanding of the importance of these periods and how orientations towards S/E fields develop over time. In this paper, we examine the gendered pathways to a S/E bachelor degree from middle school to high school and college based on a representative sample from the 1973-1974 birth cohort. Using a counterfactual decomposition analysis, we determine the relative importance of these different life-course periods and thereby inform the direction of future research and policy. Our findings confirm previous research that highlights the importance of early encouragement for gender differences in S/E degrees. But our findings also attest to the crucial role of the high school years as a decisive period for the gender gap while challenging the focus on college in research and policy. Indeed, if female high school seniors had the same orientation towards and preparation for S/E fields as their male peers, the gender gap in S/E degrees would be closed by as much as 82%.
Keywords: education, gender, STEM fields, middle and high school, college
JEL Classification: I20
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