Socioeconomic stratification in the STEM pathway from college to the labor market



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For decades, research has explored how family background shapes access to and success in postsecondary education. However, much less is known about the effect of family background on one’s educational and occupation success within specific fields. Given rapid advances in science and technology and a changing global economy, understanding these processes within science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are particularly important to the broader understanding of stratification. Many recent studies in the U.S. stress the importance of increasing our STEM labor force to remain competitive in the global market, and demand for highly skilled workers is at an all-time high and increasing. While the demand for these jobs is high, many researchers argue that the supply of highly skilled workers is lagging behind. In order to meet these demands, many of these researchers point to increasing the talent pool by drawing from underrepresented groups. This study looks at how family socioeconomic background affects entry into STEM majors, persistence in STEM major, and early labor market outcomes among college graduates from STEM fields, and compares these patterns and processes to those in non-STEM fields. Results from this study show stronger SES differences in STEM fields than non-STEM fields at each point from college major choice to the labor market. Together, these results suggest that less socioeconomically advantaged students may be at a particular disadvantage in STEM fields.