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STEM Careers and the Changing Skill Requirements of Work


  • Deming, David

    (Harvard Graduate School of Education and Harvard Kennedy School)

  • Noray, Kadeem L.

    (Harvard University)


Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) jobs are a key contributor to economic growth and national competitiveness. Yet STEM workers are perceived to be in short supply. This paper shows that the “STEM shortage†phenomenon is explained by technological change, which introduces new job skills and makes old ones obsolete. We find that the initially high economic return to applied STEM degrees declines by more than 50 percent in the first decade of working life. This coincides with a rapid exit of college graduates from STEM occupations. Using detailed job vacancy data, we show that STEM jobs change especially quickly over time, leading to flatter age-earnings profiles as the skills of older cohorts became obsolete. Our findings highlight the importance of technology-specific skills in explaining life-cycle returns to education, and show that STEM jobs are the leading edge of technology diffusion in the labor market.

Suggested Citation

  • Deming, David & Noray, Kadeem L., 2019. "STEM Careers and the Changing Skill Requirements of Work," Working Paper Series rwp19-025, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecl:harjfk:rwp19-025

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    Cited by:

    1. Jacopo Mazza & Hans van Ophem, 2020. "Educational Choice, Initial Wage and Wage Growth," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 20-030/III, Tinbergen Institute.
    2. Silliman, Mikko & Virtanen, Hanna, 2019. "Labor Market Returns to Vocational Secondary Education," ETLA Working Papers 65, The Research Institute of the Finnish Economy.
    3. Morgan Raux, 2019. "Looking for the "Best and Brightest": Hiring difficulties and high-skilled foreign workers," AMSE Working Papers 1934, Aix-Marseille School of Economics, France.
    4. Alekseeva, Liudmila & Azar, José & Gine, Mireia & Samila, Sampsa & Taska, Bledi, 2020. "The Demand for AI Skills in the Labor Market," CEPR Discussion Papers 14320, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    5. Mabel, Zachary & Libassi, C.J. & Hurwitz, Michael, 2020. "The value of using early-career earnings data in the College Scorecard to guide college choices," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 75(C).
    6. Morgan Raux, 2019. "Looking for the "Best and Brightest": Hiring difficulties and high-skilled foreign workers," Working Papers halshs-02364921, HAL.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity

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