Where the girls are: Examining and explaining the gender gap in the nursing major


The nursing major, at almost 90% female, has one of the largest gender gaps of any US college major. In trying to explain this gap, I sort through candidate explanations and show that nursing is an outlier on many dimensions. Relative to other majors, it has some of the slowest earnings growth, by far the highest occupational concentration, among the lowest penalties for part-time work, among the lowest unemployment rates, and the highest level of job tasks focused on "helping others" and "interacting with people". These factors collectively account for most of nursing's huge gender gap. While I cannot determine causal mechanisms, a major's associated job tasks (especially "helping others") account for most (55%) of the variance in majors' gender composition, while nursing's low part-time penalty is also important. Earnings growth, earnings variance, and the share of women out of the labor force from the major are less important, and academic factors like course requirements and test scores are unrelated to major gender gaps.

Publication Title

Scottish Journal of Political Economy