Trends in Gender Segregation in the Choice of Science and Engineering Majors

Mann, Allison Leigh; DiPrete, Thomas A.

Numerous theories have been put forward for the high and continuing levels of gender segregation, but research has not systematically examined the extent to which these theories for the gender gap are consistent with actual trends. Using both administrative data and three education panel datasets, we evaluate several prominent explanations for the persisting gender gap in STEM fields, and find that none of them are empirically satisfactory. Instead, the persisting gender gap in STEM fields is plausibly attributable to a females' greater preference relative to males for elite occupational careers that are less "vocationally oriented" in the undergraduate years and that permit greater flexibility in undergraduate. This hypothesis is supported by an analysis of gendered pathways to medical and law school.


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October 4, 2011