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Stephanie Owen

Stephanie Owen.

Beliefs about relative academic performance may shape field specialization and explain gender gaps in STEM enrollment, but little causal evidence exists. To test whether these beliefs are malleable and salient enough to change behavior, I run a randomized controlled trial with 5,700 undergraduates across seven introductory STEM courses. Providing relative performance information shrinks gender gaps in biased beliefs substantially and closes ten percent of the gender gap in subsequent STEM course-taking. The gap closes due to men taking fewer STEM credits; women’s behavior is unchanged, implying that male overconfidence rather than female underconfidence contributes to gaps in specialization. Beliefs matter, but may not be a useful target for facilitating female STEM participation.

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