Career aspirations in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are formulated in adolescence, making the high school years a critical time period for identifying the cognitive and motivational factors that increase the likelihood of future STEM employment. While past research has mainly focused on absolute cognitive ability levels in math and verbal domains, the current study tested whether relative cognitive strengths and interests in math, science, and verbal domains in high school were more accurate predictors of STEM career decisions. Data were drawn from a national longitudinal study in the United States (N = 1762; 48% female; the first wave during ninth grade and the last wave at age 33). Results revealed that in the high-verbal/high-math/high-science ability group, individuals with higher science task values and lower orientation toward altruism were more likely to select STEM occupations. In the low-verbal/moderate-math/moderate-science ability group, individuals with higher math ability and higher math task values were more likely to select STEM occupations. The findings suggest that youth with asymmetrical cognitive ability profiles are more likely to select careers that utilize their cognitive strengths rather than their weaknesses, while symmetrical cognitive ability profiles may grant youth more flexibility in theiroptions, allowing their interests and values to guide their career decisions.
Wang, M. T., Ye, F., & Degol, J. (2016). Who Chooses STEM Careers? Using a Relative Cognitive Strength and Interest Model to Predict Careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Journal of Youth and Adolescence.