Way back in the mid-eighties a first grader gave me a nugget of language that helps. The Gardner Academy (an elementary school in an under-privileged neighborhood of San Jose, California) was one of the first schools to own enough computers for students to spend significant time with them every day. Their introduction, for all grades, was learning to program, in the computer language Logo, at an appropriate level. A teacher heard one child using these words to describe the computer work: "It's fun. It's hard. It's Logo." I have no doubt that this kid called the work fun because it was hard rather than in spite of being hard.
Once I was alerted to the concept of "hard fun" I began listening for it and heard it over and over. It is expressed in many different ways, all of which all boil down to the conclusion that everyone likes hard challenging things to do. But they have to be the right things matched to the individual and to the culture of the times. These rapidly changing times challenge educators to find areas of work that are hard in the right way: they must connect with the kids and also with the areas of knowledge, skills and (don't let us forget) ethic adults will need for the future world.
Also, a focus on early abstract academics (ABCs and gold stars) has deprived young children of time spent in nature and playing with sand, water, rocks, leaves, sticks, sunlight, and such. This means they have little physical appreciation for what abstractions like quantity, mass, heat flow, energy, and so on relate to, so kids have less physical intuition to bring to math and science. See John Holt and John Taylor Gatto for alternatives.
I think it may be more that kids realize that people who study STEM tend to get shafted economically relative to the degree of work. Example:
"Why does anyone think science is a good job?
The average trajectory for a successful scientist is the following:
age 18-22: paying high tuition fees at an undergraduate college
age 22-30: graduate school, possibly with a bit of work, living on a stipend of $1800 per month
age 30-35: working as a post-doc for $30,000 to $35,000 per year
age 36-43: professor at a good, but not great, university for $65,000 per year
age 44: with (if lucky) young children at home, fired by the university ("denied tenure" is the more polite term for the folks that universities discard), begins searching for a job in a market where employers primarily wish to hire folks in their early 30s
This is how things are likely to go for the smartest kid you sat next to in college. He got into Stanford for graduate school. He got a postdoc at MIT. His experiment worked out and he was therefore fortunate to land a job at University of California, Irvine. But at the end of the day, his research wasn't quite interesting or topical enough that the university wanted to commit to paying him a salary for the rest of his life. He is now 44 years old, with a family to feed, and looking for job with a "second rate has-been" label on his forehead.
Why then, does anyone think that science is a sufficiently good career that people should debate who is privileged enough to work at it? Sample bias."
There was another article on how there are less Electrical Engineers. I read the EE Times forums and many EEs say they tell their kids not to go into the field based on career prospects and working conditions.
Also on the failure of the US academic system for STEM:
"I would like to propose a different and more illuminating metaphor for American science education. It is more like a mining and sorting operation, designed to cast aside most of the mass of common human debris, but at the same time to discover and rescue diamonds in the rough, that are capable of being cleaned and cut and polished into glittering gems, just like us, the existing scientists. It takes only a little reflection to see how much more this model accounts for than the pipeline does. It accounts for exponential growth, since it takes scientists to identify prospective scientists. It accounts for the very real problem that women and minorities are woefully underrepresented among the scientists, because it is hard for us, white, male scientists to perceive that once they are cleaned and cut and polished, they will look like us. It accounts for the fact that science education is for the most part a dreary business, a burden to student and teacher alike at all levels of American education, until the magic moment when a teacher recognizes a potential peer, at which point it becomes exhilarating and successful. Above all, it resolves the paradox of Scientific Elites and Scientific Illiterates. It explains why we have the best scientists and the most poorly educated students in the world. It is because our entire system of education is designed to produce precisely that result."
And beyond even that:
Al that said, sure, in theory, jobs in STEM can be great if you like exercising certain skills. In practice, such a career path is a lot more hit and miss for reasons as above. And more -- including the nature of competition, secrecy, and re-invention the world in a capitalist society making a lot of short-lived me too consumer products.
We need some better ways to help people realize their potential and make a contribution to humanity in a happier way. JP Hogan's books often talk about some alternatives. Just finished his "Outward Bound" novel, and that theme was strong there.