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Gendered choices of STEM subjects for matriculation are not driven by prior differences in mathematical achievement

Moshe Justman and Susan J. Méndez

Economics of Education Review, 2018, vol. 64, issue C, 282-297

Abstract: Women's under-representation in high-paying jobs in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) mirrors their earlier choices of matriculation electives: male students favour physics, information technology and advanced mathematics; female students favour life sciences. ‘Pipeline’ theories attribute these patterns to a male advantage in mathematics, but our longitudinal analysis, using administrative data on a full cohort of students in Victoria, Australia, shows that these patterns remain intact after conditioning on prior achievement. Female students require stronger prior signals of mathematical ability to choose male-dominated subjects, and when choosing these subjects earn higher average scores than males, suggesting a possible loss of efficiency. Previous research has shown that socio-economic disadvantage adversely affects boys more than girls, and indeed we find less of a male advantage in physics and advanced mathematics among socially disadvantaged students. We find that students with a language background other than English choose STEM fields with greater frequency than other students, reflecting their comparative advantage, while exhibiting more markedly gendered subject choices, indicating a role for cultural factors. Finally, we find significantly less gender streaming in STEM subjects among female students in all-girl schools than in co-educational schools, but no such difference for male students.

Keywords: Gender streaming; STEM; Matriculation; Australia (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: I2 J24 J16 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2018
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