There is a global sense of urgency to impress upon students the need to consider STEM careers to save economies and spur innovation. But according to new research, students may be more aware of the benefits of STEM than they are given credit for. Research shows that, during economic downturns, college students choose STEM majors over others. Additionally, the findings indicate that during economic hard times, students tend to reject majors in the arts and education (though it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are doing so because they’re choosing STEM).
The study from Benjamin Keys at the University of Chicago, Brian Cadena at the University of Colorado Boulder and Erica Blom at Edgeworth Economics noted that during recessions, students switched to majors that are “more challenging, require more math, and, above all, are higher-paying.” What’s the biggest factor for students when deciding to choose STEM over other subjects? The study points to income and stability as a leading factor.
According to journalist Josh Zumbrun (@joshzumbrun) who wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal on the new research, we should be too surprised. Zumbrum explained the reasons why students choose STEM during recessions to Gordon Deal (host of podcast, This Morning with Gordon Deal). “These researchers found out that when times are bad, when the unemployment rate is high, students switch to majors that are harder, that require a lot more math, and they ultimately pay a lot better,” Zumbrum noted. “They find that men, in particular, switch to engineering and accounting. Women switch to business fields, and into nursing, and these are fields that pay a lot better. It’s a way that students cope with recessions.”
STEM as a coping mechanism and path for success and security? Students seem to understand where the stable jobs are. The research authors noted that, “Long-run earnings in a given major is the strongest predictor of recession-induced reallocation into the field.”
Indeed, the pay difference for students who switched to STEM is sizeable. Explains Zumbrum, “One of the things that’s so remarkable is that these researchers think that…when you graduate in a recession everybody knows that you have a much tougher job market when you get out and that your wages initially suffer as a result. But [researchers] actually find that about 10% of that effect is offset due to students who switch from one major to a higher earning major. That means that, for the students that actually make the switch, they’re presumably getting a much bigger wage benefit that lasts their entire life probably because of the switch they made.”
Read the full research report, Investment over the Business Cycle: Insights from College Major Choice, HERE. Read Josh Zumbrum’s original article on the research, The Fields That Students Flock to During Recessions, HERE.
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