This paper explores the effect of interactions between indicators of socio-economic position, gender and ethnicity on STEM subject choices.

Clear disparities exist in student uptake of STEM subjects according to family background, gender and ethnicity, but there is a lack of knowledge of how these factors interact with each other. This paper uses the ‘Next Steps’ data for 4000 students in England to explore these interactions, and demonstrates that socio-economic position is particularly important in understanding gender differences in A-level and degree choices, whilst ethnicity interacts strongly with prior attainment.


  • Gender differences in uptake of STEM subjects are largely driven by differences between young men and women of low socio-economic position (SEP). Low SEP men are 7 percentage points more likely to be studying a STEM degree than women but for the high SEP students there is no difference in uptake.
  • Low SEP BME students were no more likely to study STEM subjects than white students, however for middle and high SEP students differences in uptake of STEM between white and BME students is 10 percentage points.

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