Understanding STEM, Gender, and College Major Choice Making in America though the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009
In recent years, educational policy in the United States has focused extensively on the importance of providing American students with quality training in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields (STEM). It is generally agreed upon that STEM fields will provide a large number of the future economy's jobs, and that America needs more students to be adept in STEM skills in order for the country to remain a global economic leader. Discourse has also centered around the gender disparity in these fields; even though women have surpassed men in overall college degree attainment over the last couple decades, there are far fewer women than men in many STEM majors and occupations. STEM and gender inequality has been studied extensively, and the U.S. Department of Education is continuing its research efforts to understand the factors that lead women to choose STEM field with the aim of enlarging the pool of students enter STEM fields. In 2009, the department began a longitudinal study that followed 9th graders into their college years. This data set (the HLS:09) was used in order to assess gender disparities in STEM with a recent, nationally representative sample. Logistic Regression analysis was used in order to identity social variables that interact with gender to predict whether or not a student would choose a STEM major upon entering college. The results of the analysis are considered through a critical lens and discussion of how the social hierarchy of fields of work through occupational income and cultural prestige (i.e. when presidential administrations promote STEM education due to job growth in STEM industries) reproduces inequality through constraining students' choices in college majors and work fields whether or not gender equality is realized.