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Math Education

The Myth of the Mathematics Gender Gap 588

Coryoth writes "The widely held belief that there is disparity in the innate mathematical abilities of men and women has been steadily whittled down in recent years. The gender gap in basic mathematics skills closed some time ago, and recently the gap in high school mathematics has closed up as well, with as many girls as boys now taking high school calculus. Newsweek reports on a new study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that begins to lay to rest the remaining argument that it is at the highest levels of mathematics that the innate differences show. Certainly men dominate current academia, with 70% of mathematics Ph.D.s going to men; however that figure is down from 95% in the 1950s. Indeed, while there remain gaps in achievement between the genders, the study shows that not only are these gaps closing, but the size of the gap varies over differing cultures and correlates with the general degree of gender inequality in the culture (as defined by World Economic Forum measures). In all, this amounts to strong evidence that the differences in outcomes in mathematics between the genders is driven by sociocultural factors rather than innate differences in ability."
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The Myth of the Mathematics Gender Gap

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @02:30PM (#28186437)

    How about showcasing the widening gender gap in BA/BS degrees in Western culture? Women are earning more degrees almost across the board, and yet there is almost no measures being taken to call attention to that disparity.

  • by delta419 (1227406) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @02:32PM (#28186479) many girls as boys now taking high school calculus

    My problem is the number of **attractive** girls taking my class. There are girls, and then there are girls.

  • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @02:32PM (#28186483) Homepage Journal

    In every field which was once exclusively male, but is now no longer, it's been claimed first, that no woman can perform alongside men; second, when the first claim is disproven, that hardly any woman can; and third, when the second claim is disproven, that maybe a few women can, but a majority lack the ability or the inclination. And every single time, as the residual sexism fades, the third claim is shown to be false as well. Business, politics, medicine: it's a familiar pattern. Now math is next on the list.

    In short, if there's a difference, it's not the sex, it's the sexism. Anyone who can't acknowledge this is a bigot and a twit.

    Men and women are different, yadda yadda. Yes, they are, and they may be even be different in ways that affect performance at certain jobs. But every time the issue is put to the test, we see that those differences are not nearly as signficant as the bigots desperately believe. The difference in means between the sexes, or any other groups into which people can conveniently be divided, is far smaller than the variances between individuals.

  • Re:...or maybe (Score:2, Insightful)

    by snowraver1 (1052510) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @02:33PM (#28186489)
    Really, I thought it was that Science is so watered down now, that it no longer really interests anyone...

    Science should be exciting, and excitement attracts young men.
  • by Rycross (836649) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @02:38PM (#28186571)

    Well, I'd argue that its pretty well established that women can't compete in raw strength to the same level as men, so in many athletic fields they can't. But for anything not involving muscle mass, the evidence (overwhelmingly) indicates that aptitude discrepancies between genders is a problem of social expectations.

  • by harryandthehenderson (1559721) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @02:38PM (#28186573)
    I'm pretty sure if a woman is being awarded a Ph.D in math she is definitely doing more than barely passing.
  • Honestly (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @02:38PM (#28186577)

    Does it really matter? There are countless abilities that differ between the two genders...
    and between left and right handed people
    and those with black or red hair
    and those with blue eyes
    or darker skin...
    The list goes on, what of it?

  • by Manip (656104) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @02:40PM (#28186595)

    We have a statistic, 70% of PhDs in Mathematics go to men and up to 30% go to women.

    But does this tell us anything about the abilities of both men and women to compete at that level? It might, but it also could be social. Boys are from a very young age encouraged in Maths, Engineering, and Sciences while a lot of girls are encouraged to embrace their social and emotional sides.

    If you look at a Psychology, Social Science, or English they have an extremely disproportional amount of women in them. Just as Maths, and Science often has a disproportionate amount of men.

    PS - Too few women in Maths/Engineering is "broken." Too few men in Social Science/Child Care/Psychology is "fine."

  • by harryandthehenderson (1559721) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @02:41PM (#28186625)

    Well, I'd argue that its pretty well established that women can't compete in raw strength to the same level as men, so in many athletic fields they can't.

    I'd say that's inaccurate, too. It would be more accurate to say that the top end of all women can't reach the level of raw strength as that of the top end of all men. There are many women who are stronger and faster than a number of men.

  • by spinkham (56603) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @02:42PM (#28186633)

    Sorry, we only study gender and race when it fits a pattern of traditional bias. Biases against the traditional more powerful groups are welcomed and encouraged.

  • Just a thought (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xeth (614132) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @02:44PM (#28186669) Journal

    (not meant to necessarily have any correlation with reality)

    People seem to assume that what is happening is that previously, cultural norms dictated gender inequality when there was no biological basis, and now that those norms have changed, biological equality is restored. Couldn't it be the other way around? I.e. that there is a biological inequality, that is being altered by cultural factors to produce equality?

  • by TeknoHog (164938) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @02:49PM (#28186713) Homepage Journal
    But.. but.. correlation is not causation!!! It's impossible to tell if the gender of these researchers had any causal effect.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @02:54PM (#28186781)

    It's all intentional.

    Schools have been geared toward girls.
    Everything from the environment, discipline, actual instruction, and expected performance has been bastardized to make females perform better than males, without any actual focus on understanding the material.

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot&hackish,org> on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @02:54PM (#28186785)

    In most fields with a gender disparity in either direction, the minority sex is generally, under any reasonable attempt to measure inherent "ability", just as able to do it. The real gaps seem to be in interest: fewer men than women wish to enter psychology as a field, and fewer women than men wish to enter mathematics as a field, to take two examples. Why is that? It's not entirely clear, but it starts pretty early. For example, boys are much more likely than girls to play ad-hoc games that involve numbers and math, even at ages where girls tend to do better in school. Boys are also much more likely to build electronics or program computers as a hobby. Probably much of this is cultural, but that's where the real disparity lies, and you're never going to get parity unless you figure out how to change interest.

    On the other hand, changing interest is always tricky, because you run the risk of trying to tell people they ought to be interested in something they really don't seem to be interested in.

  • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @02:54PM (#28186791)

    That's maybe true when you're talking about high school math programs, but TFA also mentions the gaps closing in under and post graduate work as well. The guidance counselor might convince you to take calc your senior year, but I don't think anyone is going to convince you to make a career out of a subject you hate.

  • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @02:56PM (#28186807) Homepage Journal

    My problem is the number of **attractive** girls taking my class. There are girls, and then there are girls.

    I'll bet the girls in your class are saying the same thing about the guys. No, I'm not trying to be a smart ass: the fact is that people interested in higher math tend to be geeky because they're more interested in math than say, what Gina wore to the party last night.

    And I say this as a fellow geek.

  • by istefany (1270868) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @02:58PM (#28186845)

    Too few women in Maths/Engineering is "broken." Too few men in Social Science/Child Care/Psychology is "fine."

    That's not true. Specifically, I know that there has been a big push to get more men involved in education. The motivation for this is that young boys (and even teenage boys) who are behaviorally disruptive in class respond very well to a male teacher. And that's a win for everyone. Unfortunately, teachers are not well-payed, so it's hard to get people into the field, period, let alone men.

    Also, re:

    If you look at a Psychology, Social Science, or English they have an extremely disproportional amount of women in them.

    Try taking a look at MA/MS/PhD enrollment in those fields. Much closer to 50/50. No one really cares about undergraduate degrees.

  • by CorporateSuit (1319461) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:02PM (#28186893)

    Men and women are different, yadda yadda. Yes, they are, and they may be even be different in ways that affect performance at certain jobs. But every time the issue is put to the test, we see that those differences are not nearly as signficant as the bigots desperately believe. The difference in means between the sexes, or any other groups into which people can conveniently be divided, is far smaller than the variances between individuals.

    Chemically, testosterone and estrogen have different, powerful effects on the brain and body. Be careful not to call people "bigots" because they celebrate this diversity and seek out the advantages it contains, or you must call yourself a bigot for your intolerance toward anyone who thinks that any notable differences are an evil that needs to be squashed. Yes, with extra effort, one sex can almost always measurably outperform the opposite sex where the opposite sex is more fitted, biologically, to a purpose -- but that doesn't reinforce your point; it contradicts it. If a woman and a man can perform equally at math, but the woman has to study n% longer, then the man is inherently better at math. That's what inherency means. It's not politically correct, but it's nature... however, I vehemently agree that the product of nurture and identity should always have the /choice/ to agree with nature or to struggle to see if it can obtain something better. If a woman chooses to study n% longer than the man to perform equally at math, her identity shows that she would be the better mathematician -- because she's more willing to put forth the necessary effort-- but don't hate or belittle people because they accept what nature has given us as a gift, rather than viewing it as a curse.

  • by Tanktalus (794810) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:05PM (#28186949) Journal

    Congratulations. The plural of anecdote is not data.

    I have a degree in Electrical Engineering. I hated it. I'm not using it in my career (other than on my resume to say "I have a Bachelor's Degree.") I did more than barely pass (well, most of my courses - the arts electives weren't so hot). I'm not data, either.

    In short, one article neither proves nor disproves. I'm neither convinced the conclusion is true nor false. And, like many episodes of the MythBusters (entertaining though the explosions are), I remain skeptical of the "busted" tag based on the evidence presented. The evidence is lacking. Mind you, the assertion in the reverse has no (scientific) evidence, either, which is why I remain skeptical in that direction as well.

  • by Rycross (836649) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:08PM (#28186973)
    As the nerd women I know say, "The odds are good, but the goods are odd."
  • why oh why (Score:5, Insightful)

    by snl2587 (1177409) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:08PM (#28186987)

    Why oh why would you ever want to change interests? That's my whole problem with this debate whenever it comes up.

    The real "solution" to this "problem" is to allow boys and girls to go into whatever field they so choose and encourage them no matter what.

  • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:10PM (#28187005) Homepage Journal

    Men and women do think differently, and that has been all but exhaustively proven scientifically []. However, as a rule, men and women do equally well on broad measures of intelligence. And while men and women differ as to what areas they tend to do well in, either can do mathematics equally well. It's just that men and women will generally take (and may even require) different approaches to learning. It's not a bad thing, it's a good thing.

  • by Dynedain (141758) <slashdot2.anthonymclin@com> on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:13PM (#28187037) Homepage

    Not necessarily. At the architecture school I attended, foreign students routinely received credentials and adjusted grades for sub-par work. Usually because the culture at the school was to attribute the deficiencies to the "language barrier" instead of individual aptitude or skill. I also routinely saw professors advancing and showing bias towards students because of gender (in both directions).

    It's the same thing as people complaining the IE thread earlier today. If your website statistics show no Opera users, it's not necessarily because there are no Opera users, but could be because your site doesn't work for Opera users.

    Statistics regarding gender/ethnic/any type of diversity within a field do not in and of themselves negate myths or pre-conceptions regarding gender/ethnic/any type of diversity and ability in that field. This was the point the grandparent was making. Essentially correlation != causation, but with a more directed focus than the generalized meme.

    Take for example basketball and American football, sports dominated by African-American players. Are African-Americans genetically more predisposed to athletic ability than whites, latinos, asians, or polynesians? Or is the prevailing African-American socio-economic culture of poverty and poor education provide primarily athletic means of escape and is geared more towards rewarding that route? Arguments can be made in both directions, and certainly both factors play a role, but simply looking at the number of players in those sports does not prove or disprove any speculations or myths regarding innate tendencies, nor does it prove or disprove the existence of bias or bigotry.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:15PM (#28187075)

    I don't disagree that the gap is shrinking but it's ignorant to label people bigots because they believe there may be differences between genders and even races.

    What we mustn't do, is assume there are differences without proof, but similarly we mustn't hinder people who do try to do research and prove these differences, it seems naive to think that the only differences between sexes and races are what we can judge from the outside.

    The biggest issue with research into this kind of thing is that it is in itself dangerous and has implications in paving the way for people to discriminate based on those differences.

    "In short, if there's a difference, it's not the sex, it's the sexism. Anyone who can't acknowledge this is a bigot and a twit."

    Can you prove it? If not, then don't make such a claim, else you're as ignorant as someone who discriminates based upon the assumption that there is. Whilst I'm in no way suggesting that the gap does exist, I can certainly see plenty of room for that to be the case in light of the article's discussion, it mentions for example that more females are taking calculus closing the gap, but this doesn't necessarily mean that females are equally as good at calculus, it just means they're now equally as interested in it. Because of inherent differences between sexes and the way sexes are treated there is no way to be certain that the results those students taking it get are a good judge either. Now again, I'm not saying females are worse at calculus in general but I am saying the possibility exists for that to be true and that's key here.

    We shouldn't be insulting, defaming or labelling people based on what they think when there is certainly room for what they think to be true because that just forces people to shy away from properly researching the subject and it is not your place or any other individual's place to pressure someone away from research or thought about an idea just because you don't like that idea, it is society as a whole that decides the moral standards that define whether we do or don't want to know about differences between sexes and races.

    It is a very difficult area to discuss already because it certainly does of course touch raw nerves, but it's an area that's also full of double standards. I have for example encountered women who would gladly tell me about how research has proven women are better at multi-tasking whilst simultaneously being entirely against the idea they may be weaker in other areas. Similarly at Leeds University a professor Dr Frank Ellis was suspended after student protests about research he had done suggesting that black people were generally less intelligent than white people, but who wants to bet that some of those protesting were black males who would be happy with the suggestion that black men generally have larger genitalia for example? The real response to such research should be to review it and perform a study to try and disprove the research, but alas due to the danger of research in such an area to an individual and his employer is so great that we wont know any time soon.

    We've got to realise that we certainly are different in some ways, may or may not be in others, but should probably find out creating taboos through fear of merely hurting someone's feelings is a good way to hold the human race back, particularly if that person can't learn to be proud that they are who they are rather than take it as an insult. Discrimination shouldn't occur based on that though, because there's always the chance of being above what is defined as the average for your specific race/gender. More importantly perhaos, hard work will almost certainly be enough to negate any minor genetic difference anyway.

  • by bertoelcon (1557907) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:16PM (#28187087)

    I think it's fine... it'll help undo centuries/millenia of male domination in Western culture.

    But it will most likely take at least a century, probably more, to breakdown completely, look at racism it has taken a long time to break as far as it has. Sexism will take no less time and will most likely take more because it is deeper ingrained

  • Re:...or maybe (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Grishnakh (216268) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:18PM (#28187111)

    Science should be exciting, and excitement attracts young men.

    Nope, ease and money attracts young men in American culture now. Math is neither easy nor high-paying. So young men go into things like sports and multi-level marketing instead.

  • Re:...or maybe (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:19PM (#28187127)

    excitement attracts young men.

    Whereas women revel in repetition and boredom?

    Give me a break. Some people get excited about science. Most do not. This is true of men and women.

  • I'm still amazed that you can CHOOSE to opt out of high school calculus. I live in the US now and I know some youngsters that chose to minimize mathematics in their school schedule and then they wonder why they are stuck at pre-calc in 10th grade. Where I went to school in Europe, the girls or anyone didn't really have the choice. It was 8 hours of mathematics a week portioned between statistics (1h), geometry (1h), calculus (3h) and algebra (2h) and sometimes statistics was interchanged with small episodes of chaos theory or applied mathematics or whatever was necessary for a particular group.

    I believe that the US schooling system needs a complete overhaul in order to create a better knowledge economy. First thing to do is add at least 1h per day to the school day. I see most kids get home at 2 or 3 in the afternoon even if they have to travel 2 hours because they're in an intercity exchange program. I remember being at school until at least 4pm and then you had to do homework and study for the next day too and if you were going to a specific specialty (eg. art, electronics, sports), traveling could also take 1 or 2 hours. The second thing to do is reduce sports activities during school hours to a maximum of 4 hours per week and fill those voids with science, mathematics and art. And for all those living in rural areas it would be interesting to expand electronic schooling so they only have to go to physical building two or three times a week (hybrid of home schooling and standard schooling). Those times should be devoted to a short overview, lab time and testing to make sure nobody is slacking at home.

  • Re:Just a thought (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bendodge (998616) <bendodge@bsgprogramm e r> on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:23PM (#28187171) Homepage Journal

    I'd support that. The obvious biological difference is that women can bear children. Since at least some women are going to be in their gender exclusive career (kids), of course they're going to be fewer women in careers available to both men and women. What we have here culturally is a mistaken notion that women are somehow inferior if they don't imitate men. Feminists have long been trying to get women to imitate men in every way, and it's causing a serious problem with the birth rates. Women were designed to have children, not be breadwinners. That's primarily the man's job. I'll probably lose karma for supporting the traditional family model, but if we don't get our birth rates up, Western society soon won't have any family model at all. (Just Google "global birth rates", "birth dearth", or similar terms.)

  • If women want to display equality, they need to compete on equal ground.

    By which you mean; accept the multitude of barriers and prejudices I and others put against them.

  • If a woman and a man can perform equally at math, but the woman has to study n% longer, then the man is inherently better at math.

    As a mathematician, I can assure you that the time a student must spend to learn the material is no indicator of their ability with it.

  • by Zordak (123132) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:32PM (#28187305) Homepage Journal

    Probably much of this is cultural, but that's where the real disparity lies, and you're never going to get parity unless you figure out how to change interest. On the other hand, changing interest is always tricky, because you run the risk of trying to tell people they ought to be interested in something they really don't seem to be interested in.

    There's the real problem. Why should we pursue parity for parity's sake? What's wrong with just having a level playing field and letting people decide what they want to do with themselves. If more women want to do elementary education, and more men want to do engineering, why are we so antsy to push them into something else? On the other hand, if both sexes are equally inclined and have equal ability, then with time they will approach numerical equality. I agree that it doesn't make sense to edge somebody out of a career path because of race or gender or whatever. If Sally wants to be a mathematician, good for her. Let her be a mathematician, and let all of her friends who have the inclincation and ability be mathematicians too. But I don't think it makes any sense to try to force somebody into a field because some social scientist arbitrarily decided that certain career fields need to be 50/50 so that we can have some vague Social Justice.

    And while I'm at it, who's working to close the gender gap in sanitation workers? I don't know if I've ever seen a female garbage collector in my life! Or do the Great Social Scientists only wring their hands about equality in vocations that they deem, in their boundless wisdom, to be worthy of equality? Do they have a list of jobs that need to be equal to achieve Social Justice? Is it on Wikipedia or something?

  • Re:CS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by berj (754323) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:34PM (#28187343)

    You want to date a programmer? Are you nuts?

  • Re:...or maybe (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:35PM (#28187359)
    Women tend to gravitate towards fields which there is a degree of socializing, such as education, medicine (Regular and veterinary), and communications.

    Men tend to gravitate towards either exciting fields, or fields which they feel will be financial rewarding.

    This is statistically backed up. This is well understood. This does not mean there are no counterexamples. There is a definite difference between the genders, and I don't understand why people feel we should artificially shoehorn people into career paths they don't want, in order to achieve 'balance'. What's equally baffling is that, despite Females in Veterinary College outnumbering males by 4 to 1 (!), nobody seems to be decrying that we need more males in that field...

    Let people choose what they want to do. Stop trying to 'fix' it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:35PM (#28187363)

    At a previous workplace there was a role in one of our sister IT departments for a new middle manager. There were 8 candidates, but only 2 ever real had a chance, one was male, the other female, the male far more experienced, a much better work ethic and simply much better suited to the job. The female got it however, the interview team consisted of 2 males and 1 female, the female was the existing helpdesk manager. The two males she'd spent day in day out flirting with (in fact, that's pretty much all she did, she was a crap worker). I got on quite well with the helpdesk manager and she said she'd actually voted for the male who deserved it, but was told by one of the other two (who was her superior) that she was to change her mind to the female to support equality in the workplace.

    Realistically, situations like this I do not believe are massively uncommon. Some females argue that using their sex to get further in the workplace is fair game, but I do not see how this can be true when it puts males at a real inherent disadvantage - even if there were more female managers in the workplace for males to flirt with in reverse the reality is that males are far more receptive to flirting than females most the time.

    Females then have to accept that if they truly want to see equality that they must refrain from this kind of view of things, they cannot on one had suggest they are treated unfairly in a bad way, then on the other take advantage of their sex to get treated unfairly but in their favour.

    I'm all for equality, but a lot of what's sold under the equality banner is really just more inequality.

  • by nausea_malvarma (1544887) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:42PM (#28187473)

    You see, in the 200+ year history of our country, we've sent our strongest, mentally stable and most intelligent men to die in wars and left the weaker and less intelligent and mentally unstable at home to breed.

    Bullshit. The army doesn't recruit our most intelligent students. Infact, Army Recruits with a High School diploma were at an all time low in 2007 []. That isn't to say army recruits are not smart, or that having a diploma necessarily means you're intelligent. But it's not a case of taking our best and brightest to wars and leaving our worst behind. Throughout history, America's army has drawn it's members from all backgrounds. It has not exclusively selected intelligent people.

  • by Lord Ender (156273) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:55PM (#28187679) Homepage

    Which means an academic environment absent of absent of sexism.

    The only sexism I've seen in academia is anti-male sexism. The boys get done with class, head to work to make money to pay tuition, then come home exhausted and try to figure out their homework before bed. The girls get done with class, have all evening to do the homework, and get their hands held through the hard problems by tutors whenever they have trouble.

    That's clear, direct sexism. I'm against sexism. Show me such sexism against males or females, and I'm against it. You endorse sexism. You make me sick. Male professors who give males As and females Fs for the same answer should be fired. The same is true for college administrators who give females money and help while giving males the finger. Fuck sexism, and fuck you.

  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:56PM (#28187681)


    Male's natural advantage in aggression causes a difference over time unless society actively corrects for it.

    Trivial case,
    Two scientists make the same amount of money.
    One asks for raises and pursues them.
    The other hopes the boss will notice and give them a raise.

    One leaves and gets a job paying 25% more.
    The other stays and gets an 8% raise.

    One leaves and gets a more prestigious position.
    The other stays and competes for the few positions available.

    Now run that cycle for a few generations and we are right back where we are now.
    In the real world, in those fields where aggression matters, it still demands a premium or gains extra success over time.

    Physical strength no longer demands a premium.

    In some cases, aggression is a draw back-- in those fields, men do worse.

    I agree there is a ton of built in sexism, racism, and historical privilege and that is slowly being rooted out.
    But having gone from low aggression to high aggression- (via hormone therapy), I see the difference it makes for me.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @04:06PM (#28187863)

    The second thing to do is reduce sports activities during school hours to a maximum of 4 hours per week and fill those voids with science, mathematics and art.

    reducing highscool extra-curricular / sporting time would only lead to an increase in the already rampant obesity rates. new plan.

  • by mcvos (645701) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @04:06PM (#28187871)

    Testosterone helps build muscle mass. Men have higher natural testosterone levels
    Men and women will get equal physical strength when equal amounts of steroids (anabolic or androgen) circulate in the blood stream.

    But how many women are willing to have manly looks to achieve equality?

  • by FooRat (182725) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @04:08PM (#28187893)

    Not letting women opt to choose the very subjects they're interested in is, uh, the *opposite* of freedom for women.

  • Re:...or maybe (Score:5, Insightful)

    by datababe72 (244918) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @04:11PM (#28187933)

    I'd love to see the studies you claim make this a well understood fact.

    I suspect the truth of the matter is that this is a possible explanation that has become popular, but without any rigorous work being done to see if this is true- and if it IS true, whether women choose certain fields because of some innate difference in preferences determined by biology or for some other reason, like the fact that being discriminated against and subjected to insulting comments at every step of your career is enough to drive many reasonable people to choose a different career.

    No one is decrying the disparity in number of women and men in Vet school because there is no evidence that men are being kept out of Vet school due to discrimination. Show me some evidence of discrimination, and I'll be right behind you in arguing that this should be corrected. Heck- I'll even take you seriously if you can find me a male Vet student who has heard things like "it must be nice to be a man so that you can win scholarships" or "I'm sorry, I just don't think men make as good vets as women" or "I'll bet he slept with the TA to get that grade." Yes- I have heard comments similar to both of those as a woman in science. The few women who stick it out in math probably have even worse stories. Thankfully, my experience with the overt sexism displayed in those comments has declined as I have advanced in my career- but there is plenty of less obvious sexism still out there.

  • by Raindance (680694) * <johnsonmx&gmail,com> on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @04:17PM (#28188021) Homepage Journal

    In short, if there's a difference, it's not the sex, it's the sexism. Anyone who can't acknowledge this is a bigot and a twit.

    If I had modpoints I would certainly downmod you for injecting kneejerk hysteria into what should be a reasonable and empirical discussion. Preemptively calling anyone who doesn't share your beliefs bigots and twits is really incredible bad form.

    In every field which was once exclusively male, but is now no longer, it's been claimed first, that no woman can perform alongside men; second, when the first claim is disproven, that hardly any woman can; and third, when the second claim is disproven, that maybe a few women can, but a majority lack the ability or the inclination. And every single time, as the residual sexism fades, the third claim is shown to be false as well. Business, politics, medicine: it's a familiar pattern. Now math is next on the list.

    I think we can all agree that there has been real sexism in certain careers, and that it's been detrimental to society. We're moving to a better place now. It's not perfect, but it's getting better.

    I'm all for equality in opportunity. But I cringe when I see people pointing to an unequal distribution of genders in a career as evidence of evil discrimination. It seems to be outside the realm of allowed possibility that perhaps men, on average, enjoy being computer programmers more than women? Or that women enjoy being preschool teachers more than men? We'd be absolutely wrong to hinder in any way people who wish to pursue any career path, whether it's traditional for their gender or not. And we should encourage both genders to pursue all sorts of goals, especially when there's institutional intertia in the equation. But I think it's naive to think that, different as men and women are, that all careers will equalize out to a 50/50 distribution over time. Men and women are stochastically interested in different things. And that's okay.

    Anyway, there's also the possible issue of differing standard deviations in traits between the sexes, which may or may not play into these questions of achievement, and is a scientific, empirical question (and a two-edged sword for any gender with the larger standard deviation, of course).

  • by ppanon (16583) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @04:19PM (#28188047) Homepage Journal

    Malcolm Gladwell and others [] say that you are incorrect and that in fact practice is a huge factor. Now, I suspect that a certain level of talent or inclination is necessary for someone to be willing to put in the 10,000 hours necessary to become exceptional. People don't tend to put in that much time if they have no aptitude and show no improvement. But there is a strong indication that you can't rely on talent; you really do have to practice a lot to get to Carnegie Hall. Also read the first comment here [].

    Now, you can put in a lot of time without any progress. There's a saying that you have dancers who have been dancing for twenty years, and you have dancers who have danced for a year twenty times. One can even refer to the old schoolyard taunt, "Yeah, and I bet Grade 7 was the best 3 years of your life!". Time is not equivalent to effort. The GP referred to one and you confused it with the other.

  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @04:22PM (#28188087) Homepage

    Chemically, testosterone and estrogen have different, powerful effects on the brain and body. Be careful not to call people "bigots" because they celebrate this diversity and seek out the advantages it contains, or you must call yourself a bigot for your intolerance toward anyone who thinks that any notable differences are an evil that needs to be squashed.

    That's not why they're called bigots. They're called bigots because they assume that demonstrable differences between sexes naturally and obviously cause whatever differences their society had already assumed to be true. For example, the idea that testosterone levels would directly inform mathematical ability. Is there any scientific basis for this connection? No, but men and women are different in this easily quantifiable way, therefore it's equally possible that our stereotype that women aren't as good at math as men is actually a biological reality!

    It's hilarious (in that particular sad way) how over time people come up with justifications for how the prejudices of their particular time and place are actually biological fact, even as those prejudices change! So early in the 1900s, the US Army IQ testing "proved" what everyone already knew -- that Irish and Italian immigrants were inherently dumber. But now that's not true any more. What could have changed? Did the genetics of the Irish change so much in the last 100 years that they no longer suffer from inherent biological disadvantages? Or was it that the culture they were living in changed? Naw that couldn't be it. In the 1990s you wouldn't have even thought to suggest something as dumb as "the Irish are inherently dumb", but The Bell Curve could still "prove" that lingering prejudice against Africans wasn't prejudice at all, but rather a prescient insight into biological truth. I'm sure if they'd bothered to try to dress their prejudices up in the garb of science, the Romans could have "proved" that every barbarian was biologically incapable of the superior thoughts of a Roman citizen.

    Show me a study that shows one group has a biological advantage over another that doesn't exactly match the pre-existing biases in the particular culture being studied, and I'll start to listen.

    Which is why this study is so interesting. By looking around the world, it helps get around the issue of specific cultural biases. And unless you're going to suggest that South Korean women are genetically significantly different from American women with regard to math (I guess they produce more testosterone?) then you're going to have a hard time maintaining the position that the gender gap that exists in the U.S. is due to biology and not culture.

  • by hedwards (940851) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @04:25PM (#28188131)
    It's hardly a small price to pay. There's going to be hell to pay in the next few decades when the consequences of taking it easy on girls becomes clear.

    It's not that I don't think women can compete, it's that they aren't being required to. In order to "fix" the gender gap in math, most schools in the US have removed most of the technical bits to make it more a function of finding the answer as opposed to solving the problem. I'm all for equality, but changing the courses to assert sexism in the opposite direction serves no useful function. It's sort of like if in the 19th century we'd "solved" slavery by switch whites for blacks.

    Additionally, I take it you haven't been to college recently because most college students are women, most schools have a large number of female faculty. Which leads me to wonder where all this mysterious sexism is coming from, because I didn't see it. Most of the classes I was in had women at the head of the class.

    As for equal pay for equal work, that's bunk. The studies for that hold up well, as long as you don't attempt to measure the other portions of a worker's compensation, at which point it all falls apart pretty well. Making up stories to justify replacing the patriarchy with a matriarchy is hardly a constructive use of resources. At the end of the day it's equal cost for equal production and there's no evidence that women are being screwed in that sense. Female CEOs don't pay women more, they pay men less mainly because the compensation provided to women is equitable based upon the decisions they may.

    Now if you want to argue that the burden of things like raising children leads to unfair decisions, I'm not going to stop you, seems like a reasonable assumption.
  • Re:...or maybe (Score:3, Insightful)

    by demi (17616) * on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @04:27PM (#28188155) Homepage Journal

    These career path selections are never made in a vacuum, either. If you're interested in two or three career paths, and one is full of sexist bullshit and one is not, more women may go into a second choice.

  • Re:...or maybe (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dollargonzo (519030) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @04:38PM (#28188301) Homepage
    I think the issue has little to do with trying to equalize the balance of men and women so much as equalizing the balance in the opportunities to pursue the fields that people want. I think that the general agreement is that (especially since the percentages have been changing quite dramatically in recent decades) women don't have the same opportunity as men do. There are various studies showing that women make less than men for the same jobs, and this is blatant discrimination. I don't think anyone is arguing that men have less opportunities in veterinary medicine (although I think there is some framing that goes one as I mentioned below).

    This reminds me of the way orchestra auditions have changed over time (described in "Blink"). Before, candidates would play in front of the judges and the judges would decide-- seems harmless enough. However, women have been consistently under-represented in orchestras, and especially on instruments deemed "better" for men (e.g. french horn). Now, candidates perform behind a curtain, so that the judges can't see the candidates, only hear them. Almost overnight, the number of women skyrocketed. I think it's essentially the same thing with women in math and science. People are predisposed to think that men are better than women at certain tasks/professions (even if it's subconscious) and this is reflected in the number of women we see in various industries. I don't think anyone is really immune from this, and in math and science, I think the framing effect is rather strong. Just read some of the blogs of women in science (e.g. []) and you'll see that there is still an opportunity gap.

    Also, it's not entirely the fault of men. I think women have almost just as much to do with the problem. From mothers telling their daughters they're not smart enough to do science to an example from aforementioned blog: Isis took her toddler to daycare and the caretaker asked what she did; she said "I work at the hospital" and the response was "oh, a lot of the other mommies are nurses too." This does not help the problem...
  • by Weezul (52464) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @04:51PM (#28188491)

    I don't believe you about the tutoring, but normally students who need full blown tutoring are lost causes.

    It's just basic biology, males are the "disposable" gender who might have zero children or might have massive armies of kids, while women are biologically constrained in heir reproductive output, and so their genes benefit more from playing safe. In particular, women have an innate advantage that "they do what society tells them" while men try to buck the system. It's hardly surprising that women do math well if you tell them to do math well, while men fuck it up just to stick it to ya. Society will eventually favor women for this one reason.

    Another important fact is that males have higher variance across most species and most traits. So you expect the smarted 1% are mostly males, which might have been all the scientists & engineers 200 years ago, but we need way more than 1% doing science & engineering today. I mean, visualize two normal distributions with the same mean and different variances, the high variance dominates the uber high end, but the low variance dominates eventually. But females are actually buying a slightly higher mean then males with that low variance, as biology can fuck up easily. So they very quickly dominate the intelligence disciplines once you need large numbers of people.

  • Re:Just a thought (Score:3, Insightful)

    by datababe72 (244918) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @05:02PM (#28188637)

    Your statement that I was designed to have children and not be a breadwinner is insulting. These two things are by no means mutually exclusive.

    I have a PhD in a science field. I work at the intersection of science and IT. Through a combination of luck, work, and ability I have done pretty well in my field, and have a good career that pays well. If you define breadwinner as the person bringing home the majority of the household income, that would be me.

    I also have a daughter and am pregnant with my second child. I breastfed my daughter for almost two years- I've done pretty much all that biology requires of me as a mother as opposed to a gender neutral parent. I categorically do not want to be a stay at home mom. I have a lot of respect for those who do. It is a hard, under-appreciated job, and one that I readily admit I am not well suited for.

    Sure, some women will be stay at home moms. Some men will be stay at home dads- and more and more are choosing to do so as our society becomes more equal. The personality traits that make one a good stay at home parent are not uniquely female. In my family, it happens that my husband would make the better stay at home parent. It also happens that he does not want to do that, and we can afford to pay for excellent day care, thereby allowing us both to continue in the careers we enjoy. Some families decide to have one parent stay home. Some families decide to use day care. The latest research shows no real difference in outcomes for the children, provided it is high quality day care.

    If you're worried about birth rates, you can work to make our society more supportive of working parents. If you insist that the only way society can work is if one parent stays home with the kids... you're pretty much guaranteeing that some percentage of families will choose not to have kids because neither partner wants to stay home.

  • by Deanalator (806515) <> on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @05:03PM (#28188655) Homepage

    Sorry, but I have yet to meet this mythical female mathematician that only got to where she was because she had everything handed to her. Every girl I know that got into theoretical mathematics got there by being a freaking rockstar mathematician. In my experience, mediocre mathematicians are predominantly male, because females that are mediocre at math tend to go into a more accepting field.

  • by Lord Ender (156273) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @05:04PM (#28188661) Homepage

    "Are you really using the male-as-breadwinner stereotype to claim the existence of anti-male sexism?"

    Stereotype? Breadwinner? What does that have to do with anything? No, the guys have to pay for school. The girls get scholarships. Hence the example of the guys having to work to pay for school. I'm sorry that wasn't clear to you. You seem like you have blinders on, so I doubt this message will get through to you, either.

  • by JustNiz (692889) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @05:21PM (#28188893)

    Whether you like to accept it or not, women and men are psychobiologically different. Meaning, there are observable, quantifiable and consistent physical differences in the brain and its chemistry based solely on gender.

    As a result, women consistently perform worse at spatial-based tasks than men. Women consistently perform better at communications-based tasks than men. There are millions of well-conducted experiments and studies that re-prove the existence of these and other gender-based differences over and over again.

    It frustrates the hell out of me that the loony 'Politically Correct' regime is so enforced on us and continues to reduce to denial any innate gender difference even in the face of hard evidence.

    Most 'normal' people now feel they can't even openly raise the possibility, much less the FACT that we actually are mentally differently-abled BECAUSE of gender.

    Society as a whole will not properly develop until we accept the existence of gender-based ability differences, including mental, as a fact and move on.

  • Re:Obligatory XKCD (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @05:43PM (#28189121)

    This should be modded Insightful.

  • Re:Just a thought (Score:3, Insightful)

    by datababe72 (244918) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @05:58PM (#28189295)

    Since none of you seem to actually know what's involved....

    40 weeks of pregnancy, give or take a couple of weeks. Usually, you can work through most of that- although some complications will dictate bedrest and some occupations are less suited for working during pregnancy than others. I'd say "academic mathematician" wouldn't involve any work place hazards that would preclude pregnant women, though.

    Breastfeeding is extremely variable. The current "official" US recommendation is exclusively breastfed for 6 months, breastfed + solid foods until a year, and then breastfeeding after that as long as both child and mother want. The WHO recommends 2 years of breastfeeding.

    I breastfed for 23 months. I went back to work after 3 months. As you say, we now have breast pumps. The limit on using a pump is mostly time and space- you need 15-20 minutes 2-3 times a day, in a private space.

    I'll also point out that throughout most of human history, women have worked while caring for children. They just haven't worked outside the home. Working in the home on non-childcare related things used to be a lot more time consuming than it is now. Have you ever read a description about how to make soap, for instance?

  • There are more moderately-high paying jobs not requiring a BA/BS degree that men traditionally hold, rather than women. Building trades, for instance.

    Nearly all of which have collapsed under competition from guest workers or foreign countries since roughly the '90s.

    FWIW, since this is a relatively recent development, I think it's fine... it'll help undo centuries/millenia of male domination in Western culture.

    Male domination my ass. Men don't dominate. The top men dominate. []

  • by datababe72 (244918) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @06:17PM (#28189511)

    A big problem with your argument is that you are assuming that math professors are all "at the very top" of the math field. I am not qualified to assess mathematical genius, but I don't think this is true- certainly in fields in which I can assess ability, not all professors are at the very top of their field.

  • For example, my school had all sorts of scholarships available only to women (not men).

    Let me clarify this with a data point/anecdote. Here at UMass Amherst, there are a great many scholarships available for Computer Science students. The small minority that don't require that the applicant have membership in a racial minority or have female sex all explicitly state that they still prefer it. It's actively frustrating hunting for scholarships as a "white" male, since everyone figures that you must be rich, fat, and happy enough to pay for everything in life all on your lonesome, or at least that you deserve their money much less than someone who happens to speak Spanish natively or lacks a Y-chromosome.

  • by kklein (900361) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @06:19PM (#28189531)

    Yes. This is how I see society working as well. Men are expendable.

    Also, as much as there are horrific abuses of women in the Arab world, I suspect they are aberrations. I have known a lot of Arabic guys in university, and with the exception of one creep, those guys dote on their wives and do what their wives tell them. The women really seem to wear the pants and make the big decisions; the guys are like children who are given a little more slack because they go out and earn the money.

    I honestly think that this view of society needs to be put out there more. I live in Japan, and this is very much how this works. Guys go out and work themselves to death; housewives have the bank card and give the guy an allowance.

    You know that saying "behind every great man there is a great woman?" Well, people think that it's sexist, because it implies that women are in a support role, but what it doesn't mention is the strings connecting the woman's hands to the man, and the fact that the man is in front because that's always where you put a shield. He's there to do the bidding of the woman and soak up bullets.

    Okay, so the model of society I'm posing here isn't exactly true, but I would argue that it is no less true than the model of male dominance. The truth is always a lot more complex than any little caricature we can dream up.

  • Re:Draft women? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WCguru42 (1268530) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @06:32PM (#28189657)

    Yet I've NEVER heard a single self-described feminist clambering for the right to be drafted into military service.

    Why would they? A feminist is someone who strives for the betterment of women and signing up for the draft doesn't appear to fall into that category. What you search for is the equalicist. They're terribly few and far between but if you ever see one confront a feminist it's well worth the watch.

  • Re:...or maybe (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hackstraw (262471) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @06:35PM (#28189685)

    I'd love to see the studies you claim make this a well understood fact.

    I'm not going to do a cited paper, so give me some latitude here with some well understood facts.

    Its nice to believe that there is some equal playing ground in life, but its the differences between people that make things interesting. This perennial debate over the sexes being the same is quixotic. All sex based species have differences between the sexes for survival of the species. Humans have not evolved any more than the animals that they have domesticated. Dogs still bury bones in the corner of a carpeted room because its in their genes to do so. Cats kill birds and bring them home even though they have plenty of food because its in their genes. Dogs are not cats.

    Humans are not genetically different from the hunters and gathers from around 100,000 years ago. Meaning they are not any smarter, even though some of them know how to do partial differential equations and some don't. In humans, its the males that typically did the hunting and females did the child rearing and gathering. Female humans have wider hips for giving birth which limits their ability to run and catch prey which is needed for protein in their diet. Hunting abilities gave men better spacial abilities, the ability to plan and execute a plan, and also men have a much greater upper body strength and lung capacity. These are well understood facts for anyone who knows a little about human evolution or biology. Gathering abilities enable women to have better periphery short range vision (eg, why they can find things in the refrigerator that were right in front of the man's face!).

    To say that women and men are the same is nonproductive because by definition they are different.

  • The prison gap! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by quenda (644621) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @06:38PM (#28189711)

    This is good to hear. Now we can start to address other gender issues.
    The 10:1 gender ratio in prisons is obviously driven by sociocultural factors rather than innate differences.
    We need affirmative action to address this imbalance. To get the ball rolling, I propose a 12 month minimum sentence for parking across 2 bays.

  • by justinlee37 (993373) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @07:30PM (#28190189)

    Don't worry chicken little, the sky isn't falling. Society will move forward just fine.

    Women and men are biologically different. Yes, that's not contestable. We have different organs, muscle structures, and hormones.

    But little (if any) data is ever presented during a public discourse that really shows that there is a causal link between these biological differences and typical gender differences (such as a preferred field of study). To me the social conditioning argument is rather compelling; girls don't spend time practicing math or fixing cars because they're told at a young age that that isn't what "girls do." This is so consistent that I'd imagine you could interview a thousand men and a thousand women, all of the same age, and find that - surprise! - the ability to fix a car is correlated with testosterone levels. But that doesn't mean that testosterone somehow imparts some sort of biological knowledge of combustion engines onto you. Furthermore, if there are gender differences in something such as problem-solving ability, are the differences pronounced enough to be entirely responsible for the widely different activities and occupations that we see men and women engaging in? Or are they relatively minor, and trumped so that we can ignore fundamental social issues and get back to "business as usual?"

    Maybe it would be easier to raise the possibility of innate gender differences without getting publicly shot down if you ever backed any of these claims up with some sort of effective citation..

  • Um... what? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Estanislao Martínez (203477) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @07:54PM (#28190401) Homepage

    How is it, then, that women find themselves the victim of "social gender roles?" Men, I think, in a very real sense, do not make society. Women do. Women raise kids and instill values in them men's behavior is almost entirely based on doing things that will score and keep women.

    Have you considered the possibility that children actually don't acquire their values exclusively from their mothers? But rather, acquire them from their interaction with the culture at large? Have you considered the possibility that, just for example, schools are sites of sustainable transmission of values between the children themselves? So that kids end up learning a very large chunk of their values from peers and kids slightly above their grade.

    And what about the constant portrayal of gender roles in the media? Are you also absolutely convinced that that has no part to play? Or, also, what about the fact that until relatively recently in our culture, licit sexual access to women was negotiated between the suitor and the woman's father? Are you absolutely sure that our culture contains no residues of that? Like, for example, are you sure that men's behavior toward women is always truly aimed at gaining the women's favor as an end in itself, and never as, say, a means towards winning an imagined competition between men []?

    You've considered all of this and more, and correctly discarded all of it, right?

  • by logicnazi (169418) <(logicnazi) (at) (> on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @08:17PM (#28190539) Homepage
    And as another mathematician I will call total BS on that.

    Yes, I definatly agree there are excellent students who need a fair bit of time to digest material and there are quick but not deep students as well but are you really going to claim that there is NO relation between the time it takes to pick up a piece of math and mathematical ability.

    Hell, in modern mathematical practice a great deal of what we do is spend time trying to digest the work of other mathematicians so we can profit from their techniques. Ultimately if you can pick them up faster you have an advantage. It's an advantage that can be outweighed by other factors but it's still an advantage.

    The parent's point is logically valid. Other factors being equal picking up a subject faster is an advantage. Or course other factors may not be equal. While this is based primarily on ancedotal experience IMO part of the difference has to do with the way that men and women relate to the course and to other students (for reasons that are certainly at least partly social). Women are much more willing to ask for help from the instructor and possibly less willing to contest other students solutions. Given the way we teach math pre-college and in introductory classes following the instructor's advice too closely is a disadvantage for becoming a real mathematician.

  • by CharlesEGrant (465919) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @11:20PM (#28191771)

    Of course the statistical properties of groups don't tell you anything about the qualities of a given individual. Men are on average taller then women, but I'm male, and only 5'6" while one of my previous girlfriend was 5'10". I make my living in a mathematical field, and I work with plenty of women who are much better at math then me. The question is, when we see large group disparities between genders is it nature, nurture, or some combination of the two?

    I did an undergrad degree in physics back in the early 1970s. At that time the number of women in upper-division math and physics classes was about 1/30th the number of men. I heard many folks explain this as a natural result of the innate differences between genders. I also heard several professors explicitly discourage women from taking upper division math and physics because it was not a "suitable" field for women.

    In 2003 I went back to school to do an MS in Applied Math. I was surprised to see that women now made up between 1/5th and 1/3rd of the upper division and graduate classes. Furthermore, the women in the classes didn't seem to have any more trouble with the material then I did. I'm perfectly open to the idea that the distribution of talents in the two genders is influenced by neuro-development and anatomy, but human neuro-development and anatomy didn't change much between 1974 and 2003, which makes me think that the folks who ascribed the gender ratios in circa 1974 math classes entirely to intrinsic differences were full of shit.