Numerous theories have been put forward for the high and continuing levels of gender segregation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, but research has not systematically examined the extent to which these theories for the gender gap are consistent with actual trends. Using both administrative data and four separate longitudinal studies sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), we evaluate several prominent explanations for the persisting gender gap in STEM fields related to mathematics performance and background and general life goals, and find that none of them are empirically satisfactory. Instead, we suggest that the structure of majors and their linkages to professional training and careers may combine with gender differences in educational goals to influence the persisting gender gap in STEM fields. An analysis of gendered career aspirations, course-taking patterns, and pathways to medical and law school supports this explanation.
Keywords: Gender; Higher education; STEM.
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