STEM Workforce Disparities | Web version

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January 18, 2018

Education

Women and Some Minorities Encounter Disparities in STEM Occupations, Even with Post-Secondary Education

A female systems engineer working on a computer server

Agnor Mark Rayan/Adobe Stock

A new RAND report aims to contribute new knowledge to our understanding of the role that postsecondary education plays in meeting the increasing demands of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) workforce. Researchers found that despite a burgeoning demand and premium pay for workers skilled in STEM, women and racial/ethnic minorities are less likely to earn STEM credentials and enter STEM employment.

About 20% of all jobs in the U.S. economy require STEM training, and those occupations are projected to grow about 9% over the next decade—faster than any other employment category. The receipt of a bachelor's degree in a STEM field, as well as the acquisition of certifications/licenses, are important educational milestones that support success in the STEM labor market.

However, RAND found that in both absolute and relative numbers, women are less likely to earn these critical degrees and to enter STEM employment:

  • Women earn more bachelor's degrees overall but earn fewer STEM bachelor's degrees than men, resulting in a large gender gap in the proportion of bachelor's degrees that are STEM.
  • Women who have a STEM degree do not necessarily land a STEM job: Only about 30% of women with STEM bachelor's degrees go on to work in STEM fields, compared to 50% of men. Women who earned a STEM degree were no more likely to land a STEM job than men with degrees in non-STEM fields.
  • Discouragement over wage disparities may contribute to the gap: Men with STEM bachelor's degrees earn about $7 more per hour on average than women with STEM bachelor's degrees; the non-STEM gender gap is about $3.50 per hour.

RAND researchers also found gaps in attainment and wages by racial and ethnic groups:

  • Whites and Asians were found to earn most of the STEM bachelor's degrees and benefit more from their STEM educations than their black and Hispanic peers.
  • Of all the bachelor's degrees earned by Asians, 50% are in STEM subjects, the highest rate of any group. For blacks, the comparable figure is 30%, the lowest rate among racial and ethnic groups.
  • Blacks and Hispanics are less likely to work in STEM jobs compared with whites, and when they do procure STEM jobs, they earn less than whites.

Without stronger support for these traditionally underrepresented groups, the STEM economy may fail to optimize the pool of potential workers that it needs to sustain growth and innovation.

Read the full report »

Read the research brief »

RAND Congressional Resources Staff

Jayme Fuglesten
Director, Office of Congressional Relations

Grace Evans
Legislative Analyst

RAND Office of Congressional Relations
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