A new study argues that the number of women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) can be increased by simply making grading policies within the fields less harsh.
In a paper titled “Equilibrium Grade Inflation with Implications for Female Interest in STEM Majors,” Naval Postgraduate School professor Thomas Ahn, Duke University economics professor Peter Arcidiacono, Duke University researcher Amy Hopson, and James R. Thomas of the Federal Trade Commission argue that STEM programs at colleges and universities lacking female enrollment can be attributed largely to harsh grading policies in these fields.
The researchers take the position that universities are discouraging students, especially female students, from pursuing STEM majors by allowing differences in grading policies and study time across different fields to exist. They contend that “harsher grading policies in STEM courses disproportionately affect women,” because women are more impacted mentally by receiving poor grades.
The researchers conducted their study by pairing administrative and enrollment data from the University of Kentucky with hundreds of end of course evaluations.
Their research led them to the conclusion that women weigh grades more heavily when choosing which fields to pursue, and that their sensitivities to harsher grading policies and are in large part responsible for the lack of women in STEM fields.
According to the study, women study substantially more than men. (Stinebrickner & Stinebrickner 2004, Arcidiacono et al. 2012) Overall, women study 33% more than men, but the researchers estimate that women would study over 42% more because of preferences for grades. Suggesting that extra study time associated with STEM courses isn’t the problem for Women.
While women also have higher grades than men in both STEM and non-STEM classes they are significantly under-represented in STEM classes. The researchers say this suggests that the association of lower GPA in STEM fields is a contributing factor to the lack of female enrollment, as women are less likely to carry on in a field in which they have received a low grade.
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