Past research has established educational aspiration as an important factor leading to future planning and academic attainment, but there is a lack of scholarly attention to the role of educational aspiration in the pursuit of graduate education. Using a recent nationally representative sample of college graduates, this study examines educational aspiration of college graduates in STEM majors and focuses on gender-based differences in the pursuit of advanced degrees in order to better understand the factors underlying the underrepresentation of women in their low-participation disciplines. Multinomial logit analysis is conducted to identify the factors that contribute to educational aspirations, graduate school application, and gender-based differences therein. The major findings are that (1) educational aspiration is a strong and important mediator to college graduates’ pursuit of continuing education; (2) female students are more sensitive to socio-psychological influences from significant others in developing educational aspirations; (3) given the aspiration for graduate education, women’s applications to graduate school is influenced strongly by family and financial factors. Potential policy recommendations are discussed based on the findings of the study.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Adkins, D. E., & Vaisey, S. (2009). Toward a unified stratification theory: Structure, genome, and status across human societies. Sociological Theory, 27(2), 99–121.
Andrew, M., & Hauser, R. M. (2011). Adoption? Adaptation? Evaluating the formation of educational expectations. Social Forces, 90, 497–520.
Andrieu, S. C., & John, E. P. S. (1993). The influence of prices on graduate student persistence. Research in Higher Education, 34, 399–419.
Baird, L. L. (1976). Who goes to graduate school and how they get there. In J. Katz & R. T. Hartnett (Eds.), Scholars in the making. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger.
Biddle, B. J., Bank, B. J., & Marlin, M. M. (1980). Parental and peer influence on adolescents. Social Forces, 58, 1057–1079.
Blau, F. D., Ferber, M. A., & Winkler, A. E. (2006). The economics of women, men, and work (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall.
Buchmann, C., & Dalton, B. (2002). Interpersonal influences and educational aspirations in 12 countries: The importance of institutional context. Sociology of Education, 75(2), 99–122.
Buttaro, A, Jr, Battle, J., & Pastrana, A, Jr. (2010). The aspiration–attainment gap: Black students and education. The Journal of Negro Education, 79, 488–502.
Caldas, S. J., & Bankston, C. L. I. I. I. (1997). Effect of school population socioeconomic status on individual academic achievement. Journal of Educational Research, 90, 269–277.
Carter, D. F. (1999). The impact of institutional choice and environments on African American and White students’ degree expectations. Research in Higher Education, 40(1), 17–41.
Ceci, S. J., Williams, W. M., & Thompson, R. F. (2011). Understanding current causes of women’s underrepresentation in science. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108, 3157–3162.
Cheng, S., & Starks, B. (2002). Racial differences in the effects of significant others on students’ educational expectations. Sociology of Education, 75, 306–327.
Ethington, C., & Smart, J. (1986). Persistence to graduate education. Research in Higher Education, 24, 287–303.
Fox, M. F. (1992). Student debt and enrollment in graduate and professional school. Applied Economics, 24, 669–677.
Fox, M. F. (2001). Women, science, and academia: Graduate education and careers. Gender and Society, 15(5), 654–666.
Golde, C. M. (2005). The role of the department and disciplines in doctoral student attrition: Lessons from four departments. The Journal of Higher Education, 76(6), 669–700.
Griffith, A. L. (2010). Persistent of women and minorities in the STEM field majors: Is it the school that matters. Economics of Education Review, 29, 911–922.
Haller, A. (1982). Reflections on the social psychology of status attainment. In R. M. Hauser, D. Mechanic, A. Haller, & T. S. Hauser (Eds.), Social structure and behavior: Essays in honor of William Hamilton Sewell (pp. 3–28). New York: Academic Press.
Hanson, S. L. (1994). Lost talent: Unrealized educational aspirations and expectations among US. youths. Sociology of Education, 67, 159–183.
Hazari, Z., Tai, R. H., & Sadler, P. M. (2007). Gender differences in introductory university physics performance: The influence of high school physics preparation and affective factors. Science Education, 91(6), 1–30.
Hearn, J. C. (1987). Impacts of undergraduate experiences on aspirations and plans for graduate and professional education. Research in Higher Education, 27, 119–141.
Isaac, P. D., Malaney, G. D., & Karras, J. E. (1992). Parental educational level, gender differences, and seniors’ aspirations for advanced study. Research in Higher Education, 33, 595–606.
Kao, G., & Tienda, M. (1998). Educational aspirations of minority youth. American Journal of Education, 106, 349–384.
Kerckhoff, A. C. (1976). The status attainment process: Socialization or allocation? Social Forces, 55(2), 368–381.
Kim, D., & Otts, C. (2010). The effect of loans on time to doctorate degree: Differences by race/ethnicity, field of study, and institutional characteristics. The Journal of Higher Education, 81, 1–32.
Legewie, J., & DiPrete, T. A. (2014). The high school environment and the gender gap in science and engineering. Sociology of Education, 87, 259–280.
Lloyd, K. M., Leicht, K. T., & Sullivan, T. A. (2008). Minority college aspirations, expectations and applications under the Texas top 10 % law. Social Forces, 86, 1105–1137.
Malcom, L. E., & Dowd, A. C. (2012). The impact of undergraduate debt on the graduate school enrollment of STEM baccalaureates. The Review of Higher Education, 35(2), 265–305.
Marini, M. M., & Greenberger, E. (1978). Sex differences in occupational aspirations and expectations. Sociology of Work and Occupations, 5, 147–178.
Melguizo, T., & Wolniak, G. (2012). The earnings benefits of majoring in STEM fields among high achieving minority students. Research in Higher Education, 53(4), 383–405.
Millett, C. M. (2003). How undergraduate loan debt affects application and enrollment in graduate or first professional school. The Journal of Higher Education, 74(4), 386–427.
Mullen, A. L., Goyette, K. A., & Soares, J. A. (2003). Who goes to graduate school? Social and academic correlates of educational continuation after college. Sociology of Education, 76(2), 143–169.
Nachmias, C. (1977). The status attainment process: A test of a model in two stratification systems. The Sociological Quarterly (Thematic Issue on Race Ethnicity), 18, 589–607.
National Science Foundation. (2014). Women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in science and engineering. Retrieved from http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/2013/tables.cfm.
Pascarella, E. T. (1984). College environmental influences on students’ educational aspirations. The Journal of Higher Education, 55, 751–771.
Peng, C. J., So, T. S. H., Stage, F. K., & St. John, E. P. (2002). The use and interpretation of logistic regression in higher education journals. Research in Higher Education, 43, 259–294.
Perna, L. W. (2004). Understanding the decision to enroll in graduate school: Sex and racial/ethnic group differences. The Journal of Higher Education, 75(5), 487–527.
Roksa, J., & Levey, T. (2010). What can you do with that degree? College major and occupational status of college graduates over time. Social Forces, 89(2), 389–416.
Roscigno, V. J. (1998). Race and the reproduction of educational disadvantage. Social Forces, 76, 1033–1060.
Sanford, T. R. (1980). The effects of student aid on recent college graduates. Research in Higher Education, 12(3), 226–243.
Sax, L. J. (2001). Undergraduate science majors: Gender differences in who goes to graduate school. The Review of Higher Education, 24(2), 153–172.
Signer, B., & Saldana, D. (2001). Educational and career aspirations of high school students and race, gender, class differences. Race, Gender & Class, 8, 22–34.
Smart, J. C. (1986). College effects on occupational status attainment. Research in Higher Education, 24, 73–95.
Stage, F. K., & Hossler, D. (1989). Differences in family influences on college attendance plans for male and female ninth graders. Research in Higher Education, 30, 301–315.
Stiber, G. F. (2000). Characterizing the decision process leading to enrollment in doctoral programs: Theory, application, and practice. Journal of Marketing for Higher Education, 10, 13–26.
Szelényi, K., & Inkelas, K. K. (2011). The Role of living-learning programs in women’s plans to attend graduate school in STEM fields. Research in Higher Education, 52, 349–369.
Taasoobshirazi, G., & Carr, M. (2008). Gender differences in science: An expertise perspective. Educational Psychology Review, 20, 149–169.
Thomas, S. L., & Heck, R. H. (2001). Analysis of large-scale secondary data in higher education research: Potential perils associated with complex sampling designs. Research in Higher Education, 42(5), 517–540.
Toutkoushian, R. K. (2000). Addressing gender equity in nonfaculty salaries. Research in Higher Education, 41, 417–442.
Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Wallace, W. L. (1965). Peer influences and undergraduates’ aspirations for graduate study. Sociology of Education, 38, 375–392.
Weiler, W. C. (1991). The effect of undergraduate student loans on the decision to pursue post-baccalaureate study. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 13, 212–220.
Wells, R. S., Lynch, C. M., & Seifert, T. A. (2011). Methodological options and their implications: An example using secondary data to analyze Latino educational expectations. Research in Higher Education, 52(7), 693–716.
Xu, Y. J. (2013). Career outcomes of STEM and non-STEM college graduates: Persistence in majored-field and influential factors in career choices. Research in Higher Education, 54(3), 349–382.
Xu, Y. J. (2015). Gender-based earning gap of college graduates: Modeling ten-year progress for STEM and Non-STEM comparisons. The Journal of Higher Education, 86(4), 489–523.
Zhang, L. (2005). Advance to graduate education: the effect of college quality and undergraduate majors. The Review of Higher Education, 28(3), 313–338.
Zhang, L. (2008). Gender and racial gaps in earnings among recent college graduates. The Review of Higher Education, 32, 51–72.
Zhao, C., Carini, R. M. & George D. K. (2005) Searching for the Peach Blossom Shangri-La: Student engagement of men and women SMET majors. The Review of Higher Education, 28, 503–525.
About this article
Cite this article
Xu, Y.J. Aspirations and Application for Graduate Education: Gender Differences in Low-Participation STEM Disciplines. Res High Educ 57, 913–942 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11162-016-9411-5
- Graduate education
- Gender differences