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The Role of Peer Support for Girls and Women in STEM: Implications for Identity and Anticipated Retention

Rachael Robnett

Abstract


The present study examined the role peers play in girls’ and women’s intent to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The primary goal was to test a mediational model in which three affordances from the STEM peer climate (motivation, confidence, and belongingness) predicted girls’ and women’s identification with STEM, which in turn predicted their intent to remain in STEM. In testing the model, particular attention was paid to differences that were driven by participants’ phase of education. The sample included STEM-oriented girls and women who attended high school, college, or graduate school in the United States. Analyses carried out with path analysis supported the hypothesized mediational model. Among high school and college students, STEM peers’ influence on motivation predicted participants’ STEM identification, which in turn predicted their intent to pursue a STEM career. Similarly, among graduate students, STEM peers’ influence on confidence predicted participants’ STEM identification, which in turn predicted their intent to pursue a STEM career. As anticipated, participants’ phase of education moderated several of the paths in the model. Discussion highlights both theoretical and applied implications.


Keywords


gender; STEM; occupational aspirations; social identity; peer relationships; adolescence; emerging adulthood

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