STEM and Underrepresented Populations: What’s at Stake

  • Tristan Ivory
Part of the International and Development Education book series (INTDE)


This chapter examines three categories of groups typically underrepresented within STEM fields in the United States: Women, ethnic/racial minorities, and the economically disadvantaged. Although the aforementioned groups do not face all the same obstacles toward greater inclusion within STEM fields, the central features of their struggle are similar in that they map directly onto inequality that these marginalized groups face in US society at large. The recent history of these underrepresented groups within STEM fields in the United States shows that, despite tremendous gains made by each group, the goal of full inclusion is still unfulfilled. I argue that each of these groups must be considered in any discussion about the relationship between STEM fields and university rankings because a failure to do so will ensure greater disparities and less inclusion within future iterations of the academy.


Underrepresented Minorities Discrimination Inequality Pipeline Retention 


  1. Atkins, M. J. 1999. “Oven‐Ready and Self‐Basting: Taking Stock of Employability Skills.” Teaching in Higher Education 4 (2): 267–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Breiner, Jonathan M., Shelly Sheats Harkness, Carla C. Johnson, and Catherine M. Koehler. 2012. “What Is STEM? A Discussion About Conceptions of STEM in Education and Partnerships.” School Science and Mathematics 112 (1): 3–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Buchmann, Claudia, and Thomas A. DiPrete. 2006. “The Growing Female Advantage in College Completion: The Role of Family Background and Academic Achievement.” American Sociological Review 71 (4): 515–541.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Casner-Lotto, Jill, and Linda Barrington. 2006. Are They Really Ready to Work? Employers’ Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of New Entrants to the 21st Century US Workforce. Washington, DC: Partnership for 21st Century Skills.Google Scholar
  5. Charles, Maria, and Karen Bradley. 2002. “Equal but Separate? a Cross-National Study of Sex Segregation in Higher Education.” American Sociological Review 67 (4): 573–599.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chen, Xianglei. 2013. STEM Attrition: College Students’ Paths into and Out of STEM Fields. Statistical Analysis Report. NCES 2014-001. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.Google Scholar
  7. Collins, Randall Alfred. 1979. The Credential Sociology: An Historical Sociology of Education and Stratification. New York, NY: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  8. Correll, Shelley J. 2001. “Gender and the Career Choice Process: The Role of Biased Self-Assessments” American Journal of Sociology 106 (6): 1691–1730.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Davies, Scott, and David Zarifa. 2012. “The Stratification of Universities: Structural Inequality in Canada and the United States.” Research in Social Stratification and Mobility 30 (2): 143–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Ehrenberg, Ronald G., Michael J. Rizzo, and George H. Jakubson. 2003. Who Bears the Growing Cost of Science at Universities? Ithaca, NY: Cornell Higher Education Research Institute.Google Scholar
  11. England, Paula, and Su Li. 2006. “Desegregation Stalled: The Changing Gender Composition of College Majors, 1971–2002.” Gender & Society 20 (5): 657–677.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Espinosa, Lorelle. 2011. “Pipelines and Pathways: Women of Color in Undergraduate STEM Majors and the College Experiences That Contribute to Persistence.” Harvard Educational Review 81 (2): 209–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Jacobs, Jerry A. 1996. “Gender Inequality and Higher Education.” Annual Review of Sociology 22 (1): 153–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. MacPhee, David, Samantha Farro, and Silvia Sara Canetto. 2013. “Academic Self‐Efficacy and Performance of Underrepresented STEM Majors: Gender, Ethnic, and Social Class Patterns.” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy 13 (1): 347–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Mann, Allison, and Thomas A. DiPrete. 2013. “Trends in Gender Segregation in the Choice of Science and Engineering Majors.” Social Science Research 42 (6): 1519–1541.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Marginson, Simon. 2016. “The Worldwide Trend to High Participation Higher Education: Dynamics of Social Stratification in Inclusive Systems.” Higher Education 72 (4): 413–434.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Mervis, Jeffrey. 2010. “Better Intro Courses Seen as Key to Reducing Attrition of STEM Majors.” Science 330 (6002): 306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Nassar‐McMillan, Sylvia C., Mary Wyer, Maria Oliver‐Hoyo, and Jennifer Schneider. 2011. “New Tools for Examining Undergraduate Students’ STEM Stereotypes: Implications for Women and Other Underrepresented Groups.” New Directions for Institutional Research 152 (2011): 87–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Pascarella, Ernest T., and Patrick T. Terenzini. 2005. How College Affects Students. Edited by Kenneth A. Feldman. Vol. 2. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  20. Porter, Stephen R., and Paul D. Umbach. 2006. “College Major Choice: An Analysis of Person–Environment Fit.” Research in Higher Education 47 (4): 429–449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Ravinet, Pauline. 2008. “From Voluntary Participation to Monitored Coordination: Why European Countries Feel Increasingly Bound by Their Commitment to the Bologna Process.” European Journal of Education 43 (3): 353–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Riegle-Crumb, Catherine, and Barbara King. 2010. “Questioning a White Male Advantage in STEM Examining Disparities in College Major by Gender and Race/Ethnicity.” Educational Researcher 39 (9): 656–664.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Riegle-Crumb, Catherine, Barbara King, Eric Grodsky, and Chandra Muller. 2012. “The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same? Prior Achievement Fails to Explain Gender Inequality in Entry into STEM College Majors Over Time.” American Educational Research Journal 49 (6): 1048–1073.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Tierney, William G., and Jack K. Chung. 2002. “Affirmative Action in a Post-Hopwood Era.” In The Racial Crisis in American Higher Education, Revised Edition—Continuing Challenges for the Twenty-First Century, edited by William A. Smith, Philip G. Altbach, and Kofi Lomotey, 271–283. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  25. Torche, Florencia. 2011. “Is a College Degree Still the Great Equalizer? Intergenerational Mobility across Levels of Schooling in the United States.” American Journal of Sociology 117 (3): 763–807.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Tyson, Will, Reginald Lee, Kathryn M. Borman, and Mary Ann Hanson. 2007. “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Pathways: High School Science and Math Coursework and Postsecondary Degree Attainment.” Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk 12 (3): 243–270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. van Langen, Annemarie, and Hetty Dekkers. 2005. “Cross‐National Differences in Participating in Tertiary Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education.” Comparative Education 41 (3): 329–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Watkins, Jessica, and Eric Mazur. 2013. “Retaining Students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Majors.” Journal of College Science Teaching 42 (5): 36–41.Google Scholar
  29. Xu, Yonghong Jade. 2008. “Gender Disparity in STEM Disciplines: A Study of Faculty Attrition and Turnover Intentions.” Research in Higher Education 49 (7): 607–624.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Zhou, Xueguang. 2005. “The Institutional Logic of Occupational Prestige Ranking: Reconceptualization and Reanalyses.” American Journal of Sociology 111 (1): 90–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tristan Ivory
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Sociology and Black Studies ProgramUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA

Personalised recommendations