Women's Choices, Not Abilities, Keep Them out of Math-Intensive Fields, Experts Argue - ScienceDaily (Oct. 26, 2010) - Dr. Stephen Ceci and his colleague Wendy Williams:
Williams and Ceci also reviewed research on sex discrimination and decided that it is no longer a major factor. In fact, one large-scale national study found that women are actually slightly more likely than men to be invited to interview for and to be offered tenure-track jobs in math-intensive STEM fields.
Instead, Williams and Ceci think the problem is that women actually choose not to go into math-heavy fields, or drop out once they have started. “When you look at surveys of adolescent boys and girls and you say to them, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up,’ you never see girls saying, ‘I want to be a physicist or an engineer,’” Ceci says. That doesn’t mean they’re rejecting science, but they’re more likely to want to be physicians or veterinarians.
And those preferences persist. Studies of college students find that women are more interested in organic and social fields, while men are more interested in systematizing things. And indeed, more than half of new medical doctors and biologists are women today — and in veterinary medicine, women are more than 75% of new graduates.
I ran a piece recently on a study done by Cornell researchers led by Dr. Stephen Ceci comparing men and women in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathmatics) area of academia. It found essentially the same things that two other recent studies into MBA graduates of the University of Chicago and University of Michigan law graduates. All three studies found that there’s no discernible discrimination against women in the fields studied and that the reason women fall behind men over time is that they tend to drop out or take significant time off to give birth to and care for children. Differences in pay and promotions are due to that salient fact.
Now there’s a new and even larger study done at the mandate of Congress into the STEM area of academia, and it unsurprisingly finds that there is really no discrimination against women among those disciplines. The authors summarize,
“Our survey findings do indicate that, at many critical transition points in their academic careers (e.g., hiring for tenure-track and tenure positions and promotions) women appear to have fared as well as or better than men…”
The study found that hiring was equal between men and women and that male and female assistant and associate professors were paid the same. Among full professors there was an 8% difference in pay, but the researchers attributed that to the men’s greater seniority.
Which links to
This past Tuesday the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a non-political, objective study of women in academic science entitled Gender Difference at Critical Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering and Mathematics Faculty. The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and mandated by Congress. It contradicts key findings of Beyond Bias and Barriers. According to its executive summary:
Our survey findings do indicate that, at many critical transition points in their academic careers (e.g., hiring for tenure-track and tenure positions and promotions) women appear to have fared as well as or better than men... These findings are in contrast to the COSEPUP [Shalala] committee’s general conclusions, that “women who are interested in science and engineering careers are lost at every educational transition” and the “evaluation criterion contain arbitrary and subjective components that disadvantage women.”
To give one typical finding, in the years studied, 2004 and 2005, women accounted for approximately 20 percent of applicants for positions in mathematics, but were 28 percent of those interviewed and 32 percent of those who received job offers. Furthermore, once women attained jobs in math or science programs, their teaching loads and research resources were comparable to men’s. Female full professors were paid, on average, 8 percent less than males. But the committee attributed this to the fact that the senior male professors had more years of experience. There were no differences in salaries for male and female assistant and associate professors. “I don’t think we would have anticipated that in so many areas that there would have been such a balance in opportunities for men and women,” said Dr. Sally Shaywitz, Yale University research scientist and co-chair of the committee that wrote the report.
The new study does not claim that women have achieved parity with men. It found, for example, that women with Ph.D.s in math and science are far less likely than men to pursue a career at a research-intensive university. Why should that be? The report does not say, but suggests it would be an important question to pursue. In fact, there is now a lively and growing literature on gender and vocation. While some scholars contend that “unconscious bias” and persistent stereotypes are primary reasons for the paucity of women in the high echelons of math and science, others, perhaps a majority, suggest that men and women, on average, have different career interests and propensities. (AEI Press will soon be publishing The Science on Women and Science, a collection of articles by scholars who argue different sides of this issue.)