Ever wondered why there are such few women in math-intensive fields? Two psychological scientists at Cornell University believe women aren't innately poor at math; instead they choose to stay away from the subject.
Stephen Ceci and Wendy Williams reviewed all of the evidence and concluded that the main factor is women's choices-both freely made, such as that they'd rather study biology than math, and constrained, such as the fact that the difficult first years as a professor coincide with the time when many women are having children.
But girls' grades in math from grade school through college are as good as or better than boys', and women and men earn comparable average scores on standardized math tests.
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.
"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 said.
It's not that 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.
Also, women are also more likely to drop out after they start a job as a professor, often because they are unable to balance childcare with the huge workload required to get tenure.
"You don't see nearly as many men with doctorates in physics saying, 'I won't apply for a tenure-track position because my partner wants to practice environmental law in Wyoming and I'm going to follow her there and help take care of the kids,'" Williams said.
On the other hand, women shouldn't have to drop out because the tenure schedule conflicts with their fertility schedule.
Coming up with alternative schedules for parents of young children who are seeking tenure, for example, or finding other ways to ease the burden on parents or young children, could help women stay in academic careers-and not only in math-intensive fields.
The study appears in Current Directions in Psychological Science. (ANI)