Research in Higher Education

, Volume 55, Issue 3, pp 245–271 | Cite as

How Do Academic Achievement and Gender Affect the Earnings of STEM Majors? A Propensity Score Matching Approach

  • Neal H. OlitskyEmail author


The United States government recently enacted a number of policies designed to increase the number of American born students graduating with degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), especially among women and racial and ethnic minorities. This study examines how the earnings benefits of choosing a STEM major vary both by gender and across the distribution of academic achievement. I account for the selection into college major using propensity score matching. Measures of individual educational preferences based on Holland’s theory of career and educational choice provide a unique way to control for college major selection. Findings indicate that the earnings benefit to STEM major choice ranges from 5 to 28 % depending both on academic achievement and on gender and that high-achieving students benefit more from STEM major choice. Further, high achieving men benefit more from STEM majors than high-achieving women. Earnings differences in major choice may play an important role in explaining the underrepresentation of women in STEM major fields, especially among high achieving students.


STEM major choice Treatment effects Propensity score matching Earnings 

JEL Classification

I2 J3 



I would like to thank ACT Inc. for making their data available to me. In addition, I would like to thank the editor, two anonymous referees, Steve Robbins, Jeff Allen, Paul Westrick and Mark Kurt for their support and comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of Massachusetts DartmouthNorth DartmouthUSA

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