While education levels of women have increased dramatically relative to men in recent decades, women are still greatly underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) college programmes and occupations. Card and Payne (2017) show that, in the U.S. and Canada, the gender gap in the likelihood of graduating with a STEM‐related degree explains about 20% of the wage gap between younger college‐educated men and women, suggesting that the gender gap in STEM is important to understanding gender gaps in earnings. This issue is also important in terms of aggregate productivity; much evidence suggests that qualified STEM workers play an increasingly important role in increasing productivity and driving economic growth.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to understand what determines college major choices. We examine this question by using unique data from Ireland. Ireland’s centralized third level admission system provides an ideal laboratory because students provide a preference ranking of university programmes, allowing us to observe the college course preferences of all college applicants. Additionally, since college admission is almost completely determined by performance in a set of national examinations (the Leaving Certificate examinations), comparable information on prior preparation and relative performance across subjects is available for all applicants. We use this to examine whether the gender gap in STEM exists for boys and girls who have identical preparation at the end of secondary schooling (in terms of both subjects studied and grades achieved), or whether it is mostly due to differences in STEM- readiness that already exist at the end of secondary schooling.
We find that, of the 22 percentage points raw gap, about 13 percentage points is explained by differential subject choices and grades in secondary school. Subject choices are more important than grades — we estimate male comparative advantage in STEM (as measured by subject grades) explains about 3 percentage points of the gender gap. Additionally, differences in overall achievement between girls and boys have a negligible effect. Strikingly, there remains a gender gap of 9 percentage points even for persons who have identical preparation at the end of secondary schooling (in terms of both subjects studied and grades achieved); however, this gap is only 4 percentage points for STEM-ready students. We find that gender gaps are smaller among high-achieving students and for students who go to school in more affluent areas. There is no gender gap in science (the large gaps are in engineering and technology), and we also find a smaller gender gap when we include nursing degrees in STEM, showing that the definition of STEM used is an important determinant of the conclusions reached.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at It’s Not Just for Boys! Understanding Gender Differences in STEM | IZA – Institute of Labor Economics