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STEM Training and Early Career Outcomes of Female and Male Graduate Students

Tue May 10 2016
Written by: Catherine Buffington and Benjamin Cerf, U.S. Census Bureau, Christina Jones, American Institutes for Research, and Bruce Weinberg, Ohio State University
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The U.S. federal government contributed nearly $38 billion for university-based research in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in 2014. Not only do these awards support cutting-edge research, but they also permit principal investigators to employ and train future generations of scientists.

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Little is known, however, about the effects of such funding on the labor outcomes of graduate students once they move on from their graduate studies. This includes participation in funded STEM research by women and minority students.

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Our paper on STEM Training and Early Career Outcomes of Female and Male Graduate Students: Evidence from UMETRICS Data linked to the 2010 Census examines gender differences at the critical juncture in the STEM pathway when new scientists move through graduate training and into the early stages of their postgraduate career. We use new linked data to describe the characteristics of personnel employed on federally funded research grants at four participating universities over 10 years. These data characterize the projects and teams on which graduate students train as well the jobs they take after receiving their degree.

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Previous work under the new Census Innovation Measurement Initiative augmented the university sourced UMETRICS data with earnings and industry information from administrative records. These data are further enriched by matching to demographics, household composition and presence of children from the 2010 Census. The resulting linked data, which will be available through the Federal Statistical Census Research Data Centers, provide a window into a critical and understudied stage of research careers at a time when participation in STEM fields is increasingly important.

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There is strong evidence of gender differences in the types of research teams with which students train. For the average female student in the data, fewer than three out of 10 faculty members on the research teams are women. For the average male graduate student, fewer than one out of 10 faculty members are women. During their graduate training, female graduate students are also employed on fewer federal awards and work in smaller teams than their male counterparts. While these gender differences are clear in the data, more research is necessary to determine underlying cause, as well as whether the differences are disadvantageous to women.

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There are substantial gender differences in career outcomes after the students complete their doctorates. On average, women earn 31 percent less than men. The figure below shows the size of the gap varies across the earnings distribution. This figure plots earnings distributions for men and women in all sectors, academia and government, and industry.

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Panel (a) shows women are more concentrated than men at the low-to-middle portion of the earnings distribution and less at the higher end of the earnings distribution. Panel (b) shows smaller gaps among those going into academia and government, with many earning typical postdoctoral researcher incomes just under $50,000. While the gap is larger in industry, both women’s earnings (and men’s) are highest in that sector. This is important given another result that women are much less likely than men to enter this higher-paying sector.

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                          Wage Distributions by Gender and Sector

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The wage gap falls to 11 percent when controlling for other factors, most notably field of study and funding source. The gender gap completely disappears when controls are included for the presence of children and motherhood versus fatherhood.

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These findings contribute to the understanding of the experiences of STEM doctoral recipients during their graduate training and as they begin their careers after graduate school. It is important to note the data may not be representative of all STEM doctoral recipients. Furthermore, the results do not identify the cause(s) of the differences between the women and men in our data. However, as the Innovation Measurement Initiative progresses and more universities are added, the data will provide researchers with a rich new source of information about how federal awards support research and innovation in this critical segment of the economy.

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The paper is in the May 2016 issue of the American Economic Review (Papers & Proceedings).

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