Findings from a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggest that immigrant children study more maths and science in high school and college, which means they are more likely to pursue STEM careers.
Marcus Rangel and Ying Shi looked at the trajectories of more than 286,000 children born outside the US, and who moved to the US before age 16, using nationally representative datasets including the 2010-2016 waves of the American Community Survey, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and the National Survey of College Graduates.
They found that among US-born children, about 20% of college students major in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). However, among those born outside the US – particularly those who moved to the US after age 10, and don’t come from English-speaking or northern-European countries where the native language is linguistically close to English – this number is much higher, with around 36% majoring in STEM subjects.
The authors suggest that older children who immigrate to the US from a country where the native language is very dissimilar to English may choose subjects that rely less on language skills and build more on skills they are relatively more comfortable with, such as maths or science. The study found that children arriving after age 10 earn approximately 20% more credits in maths-intensive courses than they do in English-intensive courses. This focus then continues throughout college, which in turn leads to pursuing a career in a STEM field.
Source: Early patterns of skill acquisition and immigrants’ specialization in STEM careers (January 2019), Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, volume 116, no. 2