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New Commerce Department Report Finds Greater Wage Parity, Premium for Women in STEM Jobs

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Women still significantly underrepresented in STEM fields, impacting U.S. competitivenes

The U.S. Commerce Department’s Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) today issued the second in a series of reports on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs and higher education.

As expected, the report, Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation, finds there are fewer women than men in STEM jobs and attaining degrees in STEM fields. But interestingly, that’s true despite the fact that the wage premium for women in STEM jobs is higher than that for men and that there’s greater income parity between genders in STEM fields than there is in the employment market as a whole.

While women make up 48 percent of the U.S. workforce, only 24 percent hold STEM jobs. Over the past decade, this underrepresentation has remained fairly constant, even as women’s share of the college-educated workforce has increased.

Women with STEM jobs, however, earned 33 percent more than women in non-STEM jobs in 2009, exceeding the 25 percent earnings premium for men in STEM. Women in STEM also experience a smaller gender wage gap than their counterparts in other fields.

“We haven’t done as well as we could to encourage young people to go into STEM jobs–particularly women–which inhibits American innovation,” said Acting Secretary of Commerce Dr. Rebecca Blank. “Closing the gender gap in STEM degrees will boost the number of Americans in STEM jobs, and that will enhance U.S. innovation and sharpen our global competitiveness.”

Women who do get STEM degrees are more likely to enter jobs in fields like education or healthcare, the report finds. And while more women choose to major in math than men – nearly 10 percent versus 6 percent–most men with STEM majors select engineering degrees. Engineers are the most male-dominated STEM occupational group but also the one with the smallest gender wage gap.

“The data in this new report speak for themselves–loud and clear. But so does the research about what is needed to engage girls in STEM learning,” said Dr. Linda Rosen, CEO of Change the Equation, a non-profit, non-partisan, CEO-led initiative focused on solving America’s innovation problem. “Girls prefer creative, collaborative learning on open-ended projects that help improve the human condition. An important part of Change the Equation’s mission is to help give more girls nationwide opportunities to engage in this type of learning.”

Several possible factors contribute to the discrepancy of women and men in STEM jobs, including a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping, and less family-friendly flexibility in the STEM fields. Yet regardless of the causes, the findings of this report offer important evidence to inform policy efforts to encourage and support women in STEM. 

Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation is based on analysis to date from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and Current Population Survey. For the purposes of this report, STEM jobs are defined to include professional and technical support occupations in the fields of computer science and mathematics, engineering, and life and physical sciences. The STEM occupation list contains 50 detailed occupation codes.

On July 14, ESA released the first report in the series profiling STEM employment and STEM workers in the United States, titled STEM: Good Jobs Now and for the Future.

A copy of today’s ESA report can be found here.