The importance of STEM: High school knowledge, skills and occupations in an era of growing inequality

Sandra E. Black, Chandra Muller, Alexandra Spitz-Oener, Ziwei He, Koit Hung, John Robert Warren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) jobs have grown in importance in the labor market in recent decades, and they are widely seen as the jobs of the future. Using data from the U.S. Census and American Community Survey, we first investigate the role of employment in STEM occupations when it comes to recent changes in the occupational employment distribution in the U.S. labor market. Next, with data from the High School and Beyond sophomore cohort (Class of 1982) recent midlife follow-up, we investigate the importance of high school students’ mathematics and science coursework, knowledge, and skills for midlife occupations. The Class of 1982 completed high school prior to technological changes altering the demand for labor. We find that individuals who took more advanced levels of high school mathematics coursework enjoyed occupations with a higher percentile rank in the average wage distribution and were more likely to hold STEM-related occupations. Findings suggest that the mathematics coursework enabled workers to adapt and navigate changing labor market demands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104249
JournalResearch Policy
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021


  • education
  • employment polarization
  • STEM occupations
  • wage inequality


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