College ROI: STEM Degrees Still Dominated by Male Students

Unsurprisingly, majoring in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) field is strongly correlated with a high return on investment in your college degree. And therein lies one of the main reasons for the gender wage gap: women are far less likely to choose STEM majors than men, and more likely to change majors to a non-STEM field.

STEM 

(Photo Credit: Phillips Academy Archives/Flickr)

When we dig into PayScale's College ROI report, and compare the top schools by ROI with the STEM degrees by gender chart, the relationship between major selection, ROI, and gender pay inequality becomes clearer.

Look at the top three schools for ROI, with their gender breakdown for STEM degrees:

1. Harvey Mudd College

  • 86 percent of students receive STEM degree awards
  • 20-year net ROI: $980,900
  • Gender breakdown: 56 percent male/44 percent female

2. California Institute of Technology (CalTech)

  • 93 percent of students receive STEM degree awards
  • 20-year net ROI: $837,600
  • Gender breakdown: 62 percent male/38 percent female

3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

  • 79 percent of students receive STEM degree awards
  • 20-year ROI: $831,100
  • Gender breakdown: 55 percent male/45 percent female

Why do women opt for STEM majors less often than men, and switch more frequently to non-science fields when they do?

"A couple of new studies suggest that women might be 'self-selecting' out of STEM fields because we're trained to fear mediocrity and failure," writes Lindy West at Jezebel. "It makes sense -- when you're told all your life that you have to be 'twice as good' to compete 'in a man's world,' it's tough to feel like you have the luxury of taking chances."

In the 1980s, psychologist Carol Dweck performed a series of studies that found that fifth grade girls who were presented with challenging new material gave up more easily than boys. Researchers found that girls regarded abilities (or the lack thereof) as innate, whereas boys felt that they could develop skills by practicing.

Given that skill in math and science are, to some degree, the result of aggregation of skills, a person who believes that she is "bad" at math and science is pretty much doomed to fail.

In other words, if we want women to major in STEM fields, we need to teach girls to think about their math homework in a whole new -- and much more forgiving -- way.

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