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Personality traits, preferences and educational choices: A focus on STEM

Johan Coenen, Lex Borghans and Ron Diris

Journal of Economic Psychology, 2021, vol. 84, issue C

Abstract: Around the developed world, the need for graduates from Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields is growing. Research on educational and occupational choice has traditionally focused on the cognitive skills of prospective students, and on how these determine the expected costs and benefits of study programs. Little work exists that analyzes the role of personality traits on study choice. This study investigates how personality traits relate to preferences of students for STEM studies and occupations, and to specialization choice in high school. We use a rich data set that combines administrative and survey data of Dutch secondary education students. We find that personality traits are related to both the preference that students have for STEM as the actual decision to specialize in STEM studies, but to different degrees. We identify significant relations with preference indicators for all Big Five traits, especially for Openness to Experience (positive), Extraversion and Agreeableness (both negative). The size of these relations is often larger than those between cognitive skills and STEM preferences. Personality traits are comparatively less important with respect to the actual specialization choice, for which we identify a robust (and sizable) negative relation with Extraversion, and for girls find a positive relation with Openness to Experience. The results suggest that once students have to make actual study choice decisions, they rely more on cognitive skills rather than personality traits, in contrast to their expressed preferences.

Keywords: Personality; Educational choice; STEM (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: I20 I21 J24 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2021
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DOI: 10.1016/j.joep.2021.102361

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