Why Aren't Americans Going Into STEM?

Despite the large growth in STEM jobs, few American students are receiving the education and inspiration they need to fill these jobs. Only 16% of American high school students are interested in a STEM career and proficient in math. Of the students who pursue a college major in a STEM discipline, only about half decide to work in a STEM career. The United States ranks a dismal 34th among industrialized nations in math, and 27th in science.

The picture gets even worse with women. While females make up about 48% of the total workforce, they comprise just 24% of STEM workers—even while women attend college at a higher rate than men. When women do study STEM, their education often fails to lead to a STEM career. Women with a college degree in a STEM discipline are less likely to work in a STEM occupation than their male counterparts; these women are more likely to work in education and healthcare. The Department of Commerce lists “a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping, and less family-friendly flexibility in the STEM fields” as possible factors contributing to the gender gap. Providing more opportunities for women to work in STEM is widely seen as one of the most effective ways for the United States to remain competitive in the global market. Less than 45% of STEM college degrees are received by woman and minorities, though they comprise 70% of college students. And STEM jobs not requiring a college degree, such as aerospace technicians, also are going unfilled.

All of this adds up to too few Americans preparing for, and taking, STEM jobs. The White House projects that by 2018 there will be 2.4 million unfilled STEM jobs in the United States. While an estimated 1.4 million U.S. science-related jobs will exist by 2020, American college graduates are expected to fill less than a third of them.

The Invention-Discovery Cycle

The Invention-Discovery Cycle

A new tool leads to new knowledge, which leads to a new tool. Over time, the cycle speeds up, first with a burst of creativity in Asia; then with the Enlightenment and the Industrial Age in Europe; leading up to the twentieth century and the invention of the airplane, transistor, and silicon chip. All of these inventions depended on the work of scientists. In turn, the scientists depended on increasingly sophisticated laboratory and field equipment. Throughout the 1900s, as the cycle spun faster and faster, the demand grew for ever more sophisticated equipment. 

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