STEM: A Fast Growing and Vital Field with a Declining Share of Women

Tim Goral's picture
Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Jobs in science, engineering, technology, and math (STEM) fields are expected to grow by 17 percent between 2008 and 2018, nearly double the growth of all other fields. A new report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) shows that women are underrepresented in all but one STEM field, and have been losing ground in receipt of STEM degrees from community colleges over the last decade.

According to the new report, Increasing Opportunities for Low-Income Women and Student Parents in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math at Community Colleges, the share of women pursuing degrees in STEM fields at community colleges is significantly declining. In 1997, women earned 33.8 percent of these degrees but that number dropped to 27.5 percent in 2007. Although women make up close to half of the labor force, only one in four STEM jobs is held by a woman.

"Investing in STEM education for low-income women and student parents is a win-win strategy," said Cynthia Costello, author of the report. "It strengthens the economic security of American families, and expands the number of highly-skilled STEM workers to make the nation more competitive in the 21st century."

Women's median annual earnings in most STEM fields are higher than what women earn in most occupations that are female-dominated. In fact, women with STEM jobs earn one-third more than women in non-STEM jobs.

Community colleges provide opportunities to low-income women and student parents to earn associate's degrees in a variety of fields. Currently, women with associate's degrees earn only 77 percent of what men earn, in part because men are more likely to enter higher-paying fields such as STEM. At the associate's degree level, women are more likely to pursue career fields that are considered "traditional" such as consumer services (86.7 percent female), health sciences (84.6 percent female), and education (73.8 percent female).

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