A drop in women taking computer-related jobs is contributing to their underrepresentation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) occupations, new research shows.
Two studies by the U.S. Census Bureau discovered that women's employment in STEM jobs has decreased as a result of their declining share in computer occupations. In 2011, women held just 27 percent of STEM jobs, after reaching a high of 34 percent in 1990.
STEM employees include those who work in computer and mathematical occupations, engineers, engineering technicians, life scientists, physical scientists, social scientists and science technicians. It also includes managers, teachers, practitioners, researchers and technicians.
In total, there were 7.2 million STEM workers — accounting for 6 percent of the U.S. workforce — in 2011. That's up from 4 percent of the workforce in 1970.
The study found that although women make up nearly half of the total workforce, they represented just a quarter of the STEM workforce in 2011.
"We have seen an increase in women employed in STEM occupations, but they are still underrepresented in engineering and computer occupations that make up more than 80 percent of STEM employment," said Liana Christin Landivar, a sociologist in the Census Bureau's Industry and Occupation Statistics branch and author of the report.
One reason for women's underrepresentation in STEM occupations is that students who pursue STEM-related degrees don't necessarily go on to look for a STEM-related job.
"The statistics show that women are less likely to major in engineering and computer sciences, which may reduce their STEM employment options unless they go on to graduate school," Landivar said.
The study revealed that 75 percent of science and engineering graduates were not working in STEM occupations in 2011. Instead, they were working in such fields as non-STEM management, law, education and accounting, and STEM-related occupations such as health care.
Moreover, the research shows that in addition to women, blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented in STEM jobs. In 2011, 6 percent of STEM workers were black, up only 4 percentage points over the last 40 years. Hispanics showed similar slow growth, increasing their share of STEM jobs from 2 to 7 percent since 1970.
The research comes from two recently released reports from the U.S. Census Bureau called "Disparities in STEM Employment by Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin" and "The Relationship Between Science and Engineering Education and Employment in STEM Occupations."
Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.