What was the role of imperfect local information in the growth, gender gap, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) major selection of early 20th century American universities? In order to examine pre-1950 American higher education, this study constructs four rich panel datasets covering most students, high school teachers, and doctors in the state of California between 1893 and 1946 using recently-digitized administrative and commercial directories. Students attending large California universities came from more than 600 California towns by 1910, with substantial geographic heterogeneity in female participation and STEM major selection. About 43 percent of university students in 1900 were women, and the number of women attending these universities increased by more than 500 percent between 1900 and 1940. Meanwhile, the number of California towns with female high school physics or chemistry teachers doubled between 1903 and 1923, while the proportion of towns with a female doctor increased from 20 to 26 percent (adding almost 60 towns) during the same period. Event study regression analysis shows that towns became 9-15 percentage points more likely to send at least one female student to the institutions examined in this study after the arrival of their first female high school physics or chemistry teacher or female doctor, implying a 2 percentage point increase in the likelihood of young women’s college attendance, but that the arrival of female STEM teachers decreases the likelihood of a town’s sending a male STEM student to university by 10 percentage points. This study establishes the role of limited information and social networks in early 20th century educational choices, and has implications for both historical growth accounting and contemporary educational practices in developing economies. It also provides a window into the tremendous socioeconomic mobility afforded by California’s commitment to mass higher education. This is the first of several planned studies that are part of the new UC Cliometric History Project based as CSHE in anticipation of UC’s 150th anniversary.
December 1, 2016
Research and Occasional Papers Series (ROPS)
ROLE MODEL EFFECTS OF FEMALE STEM TEACHERS AND DOCTORS ON EARLY 20TH CENTURY UNIVERSITY ENROLLMENT IN CALIFORNIA by Zachary Bleemer CSHE 10.16 (December 2016)