Major Matters: Exploration of the Gender Wage Gap among STEM Graduates

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Lim, Kyung Min (2016)
  • Publisher: eScholarship, University of California
  • Subject: Education | Educational sociology | college | gap | gender | graduates | STEM | wage

The gender pay gap has been a persistent issue in American workplaces, and the STEM fields have been no exception (Carnevale, Smith & Melton, 2011). For example, in the Silicon Valley, the heart of high-tech industries, the median salary of workers with a bachelor’s degree was approximately $90,000 for men and $56,000 for women (Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Studies, 2015). Such observations are likely to discourage many young women from pursuing careers in STEM.The majority of STEM workers are college graduates with degrees in STEM fields, as those credentials are typically required for individuals seeking STEM occupations (Graham & Smith, 2005). However, even students earning degrees in the same STEM field may face gender inequity in salary once they are on the job. Despite all that we know about the gender pay gap broadly speaking, few higher education researchers have empirically examined the gender wage inequality exclusive to STEM-trained college graduates.The purpose of this study was to examine the gender wage gap that is specific to STEM college graduates, a population in high demand in the American labor market. To do so, this study used data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), specifically the Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study for the 2008-2012 cohort (B&B:08/12). Using this nationally representative data, this study examined how individuals’ background characteristics, education-related experiences, and occupation-related experiences significantly predicted salaries of men and women with STEM degrees. In addition, the study assessed the degree to which these predictors of salary explained why female STEM graduates earned less than their male counterparts. The results of this study showed that, in the early career stage, female STEM graduates earn less than their male counterparts, suggesting that women still face wage disadvantages (in comparison to men) even when they do select to study and receive a degree in the same STEM field. The study also found that some salary determinants such as the number of children and parents’ income level impacted salaries of men and women in different ways. Lastly, the findings of this study showed that education-related experiences (i.e., college major, the extent to which college major and job were related, and the level of graduate degree earned) explained the majority of the gender wage gap among these STEM graduates, but a portion of the gender wage gap was still left unexplained. In light of these findings, this study considers implications for policy and practice related to the gender wage gap in STEM.
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