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QUITTING SCIENCE: FACTORS THAT INFLUENCE EXIT FROM THE STEM WORKFORCE
Cheryl M. Harris
Government Accountability Office, 441 G Street NW Washington, DC 202266
Bolstering the numbers of science and engineering workers has been an ongoing focus in U.S. education and economic policy for decades. Federal officials have introduced initiatives to encourage more students to earn degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), with the goal of having them contribute to the U.S. scientific and technological workforce. Yet, not every worker in a STEM job will see his or her career as the obvious path toward job satisfaction and high income. The majority of the literature that documents the rate of exit of professionals from STEM careers has mostly focused on men and women holding degrees from a designated traditional, four-year institution, with some focus on underrepresented minorities. A closer look at the rate of exit of STEM professionals from a nationally representative sample of U.S. citizens who are women and minorities and who hold two-year degrees may further help education officials create new policies to entice such prospective students to earn a STEM degree, pursue a STEM job, and stay on the job. This study examines the rate of exit of workers from STEM to non-STEM jobs from 1979 through 2010 using a subset of the nationally representative sample of 12,686 men and women from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79). A discrete-time survival analysis measured the rate of exit based on age, region, income, marital status, educational attainment, gender, and race. The research results show that female and black workers are more likely than male and non-black/non-Hispanic workers, respectively, to leave STEM jobs; yet, women are more likely to stay in STEM jobs that include the healthcare fields.
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