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Something About STEM Drives Women Out

By Cornell Chronicle

November 27, 2013

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Women who have worked in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields are more likely to leave their field for other careers than other professional women, particularly in their early careers, according to research at Cornell University and the University of Texas at Austin.

Among women in both STEM and non-STEM fields, few leave the labor force entirely. "A lot of people still think it's having children that leads to STEM women's exits," says Cornell professor Sharon Sassler. "It's not the family. Women leave before they have children or even get married. Our findings suggest that there is something unique about the STEM climate that results in women leaving."

The researchers studied the career paths of 258 women in STEM careers and 842 women in professional and managerial positions, using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, which tracked people aged 14 to 22 in 1979 through midlife. Despite higher pay and better working conditions, 50 percent of women who originally worked in STEM fields had moved to other occupations after about the first 12 years, compared with about 20 percent of other professional women who switched fields over the survey's entire three-decade span.

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