Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 October 2014
Although progress has been made in reducing gender inequality in postsecondary education, in the US and in other countries, gender gaps remain in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields judged so critical to economic competitiveness. Using the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002, we examine the influence of young women and men’s secondary school experiences of on their subsequent courses of study in college. In particular, we use this large-scale study to examine the effect of the psychological indicators (such as deep interest or absorption in the subject matter) suggested to be important predictors of persistence in small-scale studies of women specializing in STEM fields at the postsecondary level. Focusing the analysis on high-achieving youth who have completed the secondary school STEM pipeline course sequences, we find that academic preparation in secondary school is the critically important consideration in keeping US boys on the STEM pipeline midway through their undergraduate postsecondary educational experience. African American boys who have completed these sequences are the most likely to declare STEM majors and Latino males are least likely, net of nativity status. For high-achieving girls on the whole, however, course taking is insufficient to keep them on the STEM pipeline. Their orientation toward mathematics and external supports from engaged family, school staff, and friends are powerful predictors of their persistence in STEM at the postsecondary level.