Entry and Degree Attainment in STEM: The Intersection of Gender and Race/Ethnicity

2017 Social Sciences  
This study focused on entry to and attainment of bachelor's degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, by examining gender and race/ethnicity in an intersectional manner and paying particular attention to STEM subfields. The intersectional analysis extends previous research findings that female students are more likely to persist in college once they are in a STEM field and further reveals that racial minority women share the same tendency of persistence with
more » ... persistence with white women. Women and racial minorities are most under-represented in physical-STEM fields. Our analysis reveals that black men would have had the highest probability to graduate in physical-STEM fields, had they had the family socioeconomic background and academic preparations of Asian males. This highlights the critical importance of family socioeconomic background and academic preparations, which improves the odds for STEM degree attainment for all groups. Out of these groups, black students would have experienced the most drastic progress. In addition, this study also pays particular attention to STEM subfield variations, as women and racial minorities are not uniformly under-represented across STEM subfields. Previous studies have documented strongly that women and racial minorities have made great inroads into life science and related STEM fields, but they are persistently under-represented in such fields as physics, computer science, and engineering (England and Li 2006; Frehill 1997; Ma 2009; Sassler et al. 2017) . In computer science, women's representation has surprisingly declined by 2013, as compared to the 1980s (Corbett and Hill 2015; Sassler et al. 2017) . Engineering has witnessed more growth, but it still remains heavily male-dominated (Xie et al.). For this reason, this study has differentiated STEM into life-STEM and physical-STEM fields, with the former including agricultural, biology, and other life science-related STEM fields, and the latter including physical science, math, computer science, and engineering. This study focuses on both entry-level majors and bachelor's degree attainment in STEM fields-the admission ticket to many STEM occupations (Xie and Shauman 2003) . It examines patterns of representation in STEM subfields for the intersection of gender and racial/ethnic groups. It uses the National Education Longitudinal Studies (1988Studies ( :2000 (NELS) from the National Center for Education Statistics. The NELS data make possible an examination of the process from college entry to degree completion, and also enable an examination of racial minorities, as the survey over-sampled Asians and Hispanics. The data also contains rich contextual information on high school academic preparations, which are important to understand STEM attainment in college. In what follows, I will first review theoretical and empirical studies using intersectional perspectives of gender and race, and then review the relevant literature in understanding the process of STEM degree attainment. The process of STEM degree attainment can be understood from two angles. One is the trajectory that students have traveled. Do students graduate with STEM degrees by choosing their initial college majors in STEM and then persisting, or do they start with a non-STEM major and then switch later to STEM? The second angle is to understand the extent to which key background factors including family socioeconomic status and academic preparations account for group disparity in STEM attainment. The intersectional perspectives of race and gender can help elucidate new patterns and insights about the process of STEM degree attainment, in terms of both trajectories and contextual explanations for group disparity.
doi:10.3390/socsci6030089 fatcat:cwsn3h2ijvh4ve5ugnktqhukwi