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Committed to STEM? Examining Factors that Predict Occupational Commitment among Asian and White Female Students Completing STEM U.S. Postsecondary Programs

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Although it is well known that women have relatively high rates of attrition from STEM occupations in the United States, there is limited empirical research on the views and experiences of female STEM degree-earners that may underlie their commitment to their chosen fields. Utilizing survey data from 229 women completing STEM degrees at two U.S. universities, the present study examines how perceptions of occupational affordances and interactions with others in the field predict their occupational STEM commitment. Additionally, the study employs an intersectional lens to consider whether the patterns of association are different for Asian women and White women. Multivariate regression analyses reveal that although communal goal affordances do not significantly predict women’s occupational STEM commitment, agentic goal affordances are a strong predictor of such commitment. Regarding experiences with others in the field, results reveal that classmate interactions are not associated with STEM commitment, whereas positive faculty interactions do significantly predict such commitment. However, further analyses reveal racial differences in these patterns because agentic goal affordances are much weaker predictors of occupational STEM commitment for Asian women than for White women, and results indicate that faculty interactions are significant predictors of STEM commitment only for White women. Thus, our results strongly suggest that the theoretical models of motivation and support that underlie much of the discussion around women in STEM do not similarly apply to women from all racial backgrounds and that more research is needed that considers how both gender and race simultaneously shape STEM engagement and persistence.

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This research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (HRD-1432673; PIs: Jennifer Glass and Sharon Sassler; Co-PIs: Yael Levitte and Catherine Riegle-Crumb). This research was also supported by NICHD grant 5 R24 HD042849, awarded to the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin. Opinions reflect those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the granting agencies.

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Correspondence to Catherine Riegle-Crumb.

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Riegle-Crumb, C., Peng, M. & Russo-Tait, T. Committed to STEM? Examining Factors that Predict Occupational Commitment among Asian and White Female Students Completing STEM U.S. Postsecondary Programs. Sex Roles 82, 102–116 (2020).

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  • STEM
  • Occupations
  • Postsecondary
  • Race
  • Affordances
  • Faculty
  • Peers