Orientation and behavior: gender differences in field of study choice set of STEM-bound applicants

Sigal Alon, Tel Aviv University
Thomas A. DiPrete, Columbia University

Women now surpass men in overall rates of college graduation in many industrialized countries, but sex segregation in fields of study persists, even within STEM majors. In a world where gender norms have changed but gender stereotypes remain strong, we argue that attitudes and orientation towards behaviors are less constrained by gendered institutions than are behaviors themselves, and therefore sex segregation in the choice set of considered majors may be lower than the sex segregation in the chosen majors themselves. With a unique data on the broader set of fields that are considered by applicants to elite Israeli universities, we find support for this theory by examining whether second choice STEM fields are as segregated as are first choice STEM fields, whether gender differences in academic proficiency have the same effect on the choice set of men and women, whether choices depends on the major’s characteristics (like sex composition, selectivity and labor market earnings), and whether and how recent trends in sex segregation in STEM fields shape the gender gap in choice set.

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Presented in Session 9: Educational choices and consequences