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Gender Differences in the Paths Leading to a STEM Baccalaureate


  • The author will share all data and coding information with those wishing to replicate the study. This research was supported by a grant from Alfred P. Sloan Foundation's Program on the Science and Engineering Workforce, and a grant from the National Science Foundation Science Resources Statistics Division. Syracuse sociology doctoral student Carrie Roseamelia and Jingwen Chen provided research assistance to this project. The author thanks Regina Werem, Susan Borker, Madonna Harrington Meyers, and Chris Himes for helpful comments and feedback.

Direct correspondence to Dr. Yingyi Ma, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 13244 〈〉.



Many have wondered why U.S. women continue to shun certain STEM fields, including science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. This study investigates this question and examines the pathways that women and men follow in attaining their STEM bachelor's degrees.


Using NELS 88-00 and the postsecondary transcript data, the descriptive analysis examines gender differences in the three stages of the STEM pipeline: expected college major, first major, and bachelor degree major. The multivariate analysis examines the outcomes of STEM degree attainment, the subfields attainment and the pathways in a series of logical steps.


Drawing from the pipeline model and its associated cumulative disadvantage theory, and the alternative framework of revolving door theory, analyses from this study indicate that men are more likely than women to follow the complete persistence pathway to attain STEM degrees, but women are as persistent as men once they expect a major in STEM as high school seniors. High school achievement, attitudes, and course taking are related to the subfields attainment, as well as the pathways of the STEM degree attainment.


Taken together, the results are more aligned with revolving door theory and support the contextual variability in the salience of gender to understand gender differences in attaining STEM fields.