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Gendered Selection of STEM Subjects for Matriculation

Author

Listed:
  • Moshe Justman

    () (Department of Economics, Ben Gurion University; and Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, The University of Melbourne)

  • Susan J. Méndez

    () (Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, The University of Melbourne)

Abstract

Women’s under-representation in high-paying jobs in engineering and information technology contributes substantially to the gender wage gap, reflecting similar patterns in higher education. We trace these patterns back to students’ choice of advanced science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects in the final years of secondary school. We find large male majorities in physics, information technology and specialist mathematics; and large female majorities in life sciences and health and human development. The significant mathematical component in male-dominated fields has led many to assume that these patterns are driven by males’ absolute or comparative advantage in mathematics. We show that this is not the case. Linking data on Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) subject choices to standardized test scores in seventh and ninth grades, we find that these patterns remain largely intact when comparing male and female students with similar prior achievement. We find little support for the comparative advantage hypothesis: in all STEM subjects except specialist mathematics students who excel in ninth-grade numeracy and reading choose STEM subjects more frequently than those who excel only in numeracy. We also find that socio-economic disadvantage adversely affects male students’ choice of STEM electives more than it affects female students.

Suggested Citation

  • Moshe Justman & Susan J. Méndez, 2016. "Gendered Selection of STEM Subjects for Matriculation," Melbourne Institute Working Paper Series wp2016n10, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, The University of Melbourne.
  • Handle: RePEc:iae:iaewps:wp2016n10
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    File URL: http://melbourneinstitute.unimelb.edu.au/downloads/working_paper_series/wp2016n10.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
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    Cited by:

    1. Huong Thu Le & Ha Trong Nguyen, 2018. "The evolution of the gender test score gap through seventh grade: new insights from Australia using unconditional quantile regression and decomposition," IZA Journal of Labor Economics, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 7(1), pages 1-42, December.
    2. Rapoport, Benoît & Thibout, Claire, 2018. "Why do boys and girls make different educational choices? The influence of expected earnings and test scores," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 205-229.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Gender streaming; STEM subjects; gender gap in mathematics; secondary school; Australia;

    JEL classification:

    • I2 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination

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