Higher Pay Not Luring U.S. Women to Technical Jobs, Study Finds

A smaller wage gap between the sexes in technical areas like science, engineering and mathematics is failing to entice more U.S. women to take jobs in those fields, according to a government study.

Women accounted for 24 percent of the workforce in the so-called STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math in 2009, unchanged from 2000, a report from the Commerce Department’s Economics and Statistics Bureau showed today. Female employees in those areas earned 14 percent less than their male counterparts, compared with 21 percent less in other types of work, the report said.

Increasing the number of Americans, particularly women, employed in STEM will drive innovation, helping the U.S. compete in the global economy, acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank said. As unemployment hovers above 9 percent, government officials and the private employers are looking to attract more workers into these technical fields.

“Our ability to increase the number of STEM workers will increase our ability to foster economic growth,” Blank said on a conference call with reporters. “We haven’t done as well as we could to prepare young people, and particularly women, to prepare for STEM jobs.”

Women are less likely to have a degree in STEM fields, the study found, even as they account for about half of the college-educated workforce. There were 2.5 million women workers with a degree in these technical fields in 2009 compared with 6.7 million men.

Early Decision

Women may be choosing not to pursue education in STEM-related fields as early as grade school, said Linda Rosen, chief executive officer of Change the Equation, an organization of CEOs focused on boosting innovation.

“As early as second grade, girls are more likely than boys to say that math isn’t for them,” Rosen said on the call.

Even women who choose to get a technical degree are less likely to pursue a career in those industries than their male counterparts, the study found. Twenty-six percent of women with STEM degrees choose a career in a related field compared with almost 40 percent of men.

Blank said the study didn’t address the reasons why women may be choosing other fields, even with higher salary opportunities in STEM careers. Perhaps a lack of role models and less flexible work schedules may be to blame, she said.

“It adds to the puzzle of what is it that we’re doing inside of our schools, inside of our families, that makes STEM jobs seemingly less attractive to girls,” she said.

Today’s report is the second in a Commerce Department series on science, technology, engineering and math. The first report, released last month, found that STEM workers make over 25 percent more on average than workers in other fields.