This project is continuing a program of periodic data collection and analysis from participants in the Longitudinal Study of American Youth (LSAY) in order to continue monitoring the career development of this cohort of young adults. Earlier funding from the STEP Program facilitated the location of 95% of the original sample and re-contact of nearly 70% of the original participants. Two cycles of data collection in recent years have yielded important results about career choice and job satisfaction. These data are continuing to advance understanding of career choice, career advancement, and career satisfaction in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) careers and other non-STEMM related careers.

The results from the first cycle - now under review by refereed journals - show that approximately 7% of these two cohorts are now employed in a STEMM career and that an additional 8% are working in a STEMM-support occupation. Additional analysis indicates that high school mathematics achievement and enrollment in a high school calculus course are the strongest predictors of subsequent entrance into a STEMM career, and that males are still more likely to enter a STEMM career than females, holding constant the other major variables in the study.

This project is collecting and analyzing in three additional cycles of data collection for the LSAY, following the older of the two age cohorts in LSAY to age 40. The focus of these cycles is on the levels of satisfaction and success in STEMM work experienced by these adults in their 30s. This is of interest because published studies show that a significant number of young adults - especially women - leave STEMM careers after only a few years. This project is expected to provide insights into the factors that are associated with persistence in STEMM careers and the factors that discourage STEMM careers. No single period of graduate study will fully prepare future STEMM workers for 40 years of science. The extension of the LSAY cohorts for another three cycles will allow an examination of the continuing education activities of STEMM professionals and of STEMM-support workers and the extent to which continuing education and on-the-job learning supports persistance in STEMM-related careers.

Project Report

The Longitudinal Study of American Youth (LSAY) began in 1987 with a national sample of 3,000 7th grade public school students and 3,000 10th grade public school students and these students have been followed for the last 26 years. The LSAY is the nation's longest record of (1) the development of interest in and knowledge of science and technology, (2) the formulation and pursuit of career interests, with special attention to the pathways to professional careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and (3) the development of civic scientific literacy to enable students and young adults to understand and engage in discussions of public policy issues involving science or technology. The work under this award supported the collection of three additional cycles of data collection in 2009, 2010, and 2011. The development of student interest in science and technology springs from a combination of parental and school influences. Parents with a high level of interest in science and mathematics -- but not necessarily at a professional or occupational level -- is the strongest single factor is fostering student interest. Teacher support and encouragement is a second important factor in the encouragement of student interest in science and technology, but tends to be additive to parental encouragement rather than a replacement for it. Museums and other informal science learning opportunities play a supplemental and supportive role in stimulating interest in science and technology. A careful analysis of the development of career interest found that approximately 6% of LSAY participants selected and entered a professional career in science, engineering, or medicine and that 7% entered a support occupation in one of these fields. The major factor predicting successful entrance into a scientific, engineering, or medical career was the completion of early algebra and high school calculus. A larger proportion of students expressed strong interest in these fields, but failed to attain entrance at the professional level because of difficulties with advanced mathematics. Calculus was less important for entrance into science, technology, engineering, or medical support careers, but many of these occupations required the acquisition of some quantitative skills. Although only 15% of the students in the LSAY age cohorts will be engaged in science or technology professionally or occupationally, all citizens have encountered and will continue to encounter important public policy issues and debates that involve science or technology. The continuing public discussion of stem cell research, nuclear power, and climate change illustrate the range of public policy issues that require or would benefit from a functional level of understanding of major science constructs. Using a measure of civic scientific literacy broadly applied to adults populations in the United States and more than 40 other countries, 44% of the young adults in the LSAY qualified as scientifically literate. This means that nine out of 20 young adults have a sufficient level of scientific understanding and vocabulary to be able to read and understand the Tuesday science section of the New York Times or to view and understand an episode of the PBS show Nova. Only 29% of all U.S. adults are able to qualify as scientifically literate by this standard and the result from the LSAY indicates that the newest generation of Americans is substantially more scientifically literate that preceding generations.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE)
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Myles G. Boylan
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University of Michigan Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor
United States
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