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Choice of Major: The Changing (Unchanging) Gender Gap


  • Sarah E. Turner
  • William G. Bowen


Within the arts, sciences, and engineering fields, differences between men and women in choice of college major have not lessened in the past two decades. In this paper, detailed data on choice of major and individual scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) are used to examine the extent to which observed differences between men and women reflect the effects of pre-collegiate preparation (as reflected in SAT scores), as contrasted with a panoply of other forces. One conclusion is that there is a widening divide between the life sciences and math/physical science fields in their relative attractiveness to men and women. Differences in SAT scores account for only part of the observed gap, and an array of residual forces—including differences in preferences, labor market expectations, and gender-specific effects of the college experience—account for the main part of today's gender gaps in choice of academic major.

Suggested Citation

  • Sarah E. Turner & William G. Bowen, 1999. "Choice of Major: The Changing (Unchanging) Gender Gap," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 52(2), pages 289-313, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:ilrrev:v:52:y:1999:i:2:p:289-313

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