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Sexual Minority Students More Likely to Leave STEM Majors

Students who identify as a sexual minority are more likely to switch their majors from the sciences to another field, according to a new analysis appearing in Science Advances.

Montana State University's Bryce Hughes tells Nature News that as PhD student in education, he had wondered whether being gay contributed to him not pursuing engineering beyond his undergraduate degree. He has now gathered data that suggests lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer students leave science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields at a higher rate than heterosexual students.

Hughes crunched data collected through the Higher Education Research Institute's longitudinal survey of 78 US institutions. He focused on 4,162 college students, who, as freshmen, intended to major in a STEM field and correlated that with survey answers from their senior year to see if they actually did.

About 70 percent of the cohort remained science majors. When he split the group based on sexual orientation, he found that 71.1 percent of the heterosexual students stayed with an intended STEM major, while 63.8 percent of the sexual minority students did — an 8 percentage point difference.

Erin Cech, a sociologist at the University of Michigan, tells Nature News that this is something social scientists thought was occurring, "but it's nice to see it documented."

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