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New Study Examines Gender Barriers in STEM

Posted on: 10/15/2013
Researchers at the University of Texas-Austin and Cornell University have published a new study examining the factors behind the shortage of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. They have determined that there is no evidence that women are opting out of the STEM workforce to start families, in contrast to the widespread perception that family factors account for the lack of women in STEM-related careers.

“We don't find support for the idea that women are opting out of the labor force to remain home with children, as relatively few departed from the work force completely,” Sharon Sassler, co-author and professor in Cornell’s department of policy analysis and management, said. “Of note is that family factors—such as having one's first child, or having additional children—cannot account for the differential loss of STEM workers compared to other professional workers, because exits from the STEM work force tend to occur before women have begun their marital and childbearing histories.”

“What seems to differentiate the two groups of women are investments and job rewards,” Sassler continued. “While, in other professions, pursuing an advanced degree and viewing one's job as rewarding tend to increase retention, such investments made by women in STEM do not seem to stimulate commitment to STEM in the same way. Our work indicates that a substantial proportion of women who are trained in STEM, and begin working in STEM jobs, rapidly exit such jobs.”

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