Boosting Women in STEM Fields in College Will Not Fully Close the Gender Gap in the STEM Workforce

Increasing women’s representation in science, technology, engineering and math majors in college will reduce – but not nearly eliminate – gender disparities in STEM occupations, according to new research by sociologists at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

College majors are assumed to impart skills and credentials that lead to job opportunities, such that the labor market will echo gender disparities in fields of study. Attention and resources have focused most prominently on STEM degree programs as pipelines for diversifying the STEM workforce. But other factors are at work.

In a study of 2.4 million college graduates between 2015 and 2019, researchers found that 36 percent of the gender segregation seen among college-educated workers is tied to their undergraduate degrees. The rest is attributable to labor market factors, potentially ranging from discrimination to family leave policies, that may sort men and women into different types of jobs even when they have the same degree.

“Integrating fields of study is an important mechanism for addressing gender inequality in the labor market, especially in STEM fields,” said Haowen Zheng, a doctoral student in sociology at Cornell University and the lead author of the study. “But even if you do that, you still have a long way to go to integrate the labor market among college graduates.”

“If the goal is to even out what’s going on in the labor market, you have to look beyond fields of study in college to figure out policy levers for integrating labor markets,” added co-author Kim Weeden, the Jan Rock Zubrow ’77 Professor of the Social Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences, and director of the Center for the Study of Inequality at Cornell.

The full study, “How Gender Segregation in Higher Education Contributes to Gender Segregation in the U.S. Labor Market,” was published in the journal Demography. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/StudySTEM Fields


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