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Gender Differences In Stem Courses: Analysis Of Italian Students' Performance

  • Autori: Andrea Priulla; Nicoletta D'Angelo; Massimo Attanasio
  • Anno di pubblicazione: 2021
  • Tipologia: Abstract in atti di convegno pubblicato in volume
  • OA Link:


Gender gap in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) courses is a prevalent topic in the recent literature, and quantitative studies on this relationship are essential to understand better the discussion and issues claimed by the arguments and the theories on this topic. In Italy, since 1989, the overall share of females enrolling at university is larger than the males' one, but females are still underrepresented in almost all the STEM fields, while overrepresented in nursing, humanities, and law schools. Our paper aims to investigate the gender differences in terms of university performance in STEM courses in Italy. This is done via segmented regression models, representing a novel application in higher education literature. Data are provided by the Italian Ministry of University and Research (MIUR). The analysis concerns freshmen enrolled at a 3-year STEM degree course in the Italian universities in the last decade. We focus on the relationship between the number of university credits (CUs) earned during the first year (a good predictor of the regularity of the career) and the probability of getting the Bachelor degree within four years. Furthermore, we account for other relevant covariates regarding students' high school career and some of their demographic characteristics. The novelty of our work consists of a straightforward representation of the relationship between CUs and the completion of the degree course. Segmented models allow identifying the relevant changepoints in the CUs accumulation during the students' careers. Our analysis confirms the first-year performance is strongly related to obtaining the Bachelor degree within four years. This relation often varies between males and females and is in line with the divide between the (female) care-oriented and the (male) technical-oriented courses. That relationship varies also among the STEM courses: the probability of getting the degree is higher for males in computer science, mathematics, and slightly higher in natural sciences and biotechnology. Those results show that the care/technical divide is consistent but in mathematics, where males outperform females. Though we initially included mathematics in the (female) care-oriented group, because it was considered a teaching-oriented course in the past, mathematicians’ job placement has significantly changed with many technical and computer science jobs. Therefore, nowadays, math could be considered both a care and a technical oriented course. We also highlight an interesting pattern in engineering, which is one of the most “masculinised” courses. It looks like female performance follows the male stream, which is an encouraging result, even if the limited female component is still an issue. Both the lower presence and the worse performance of females can be explained by the “chilly climate” theory, that is, the presence of university environments in which females face stronger difficulties in further succeeding in some specific STEM careers.