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Math Education

The Myth of the Mathematics Gender Gap 588

Posted by kdawson
from the where-we-haven't-looked-yet dept.
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 Critical Facilities (850111) * on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:28PM (#28186411) Homepage

    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).

    Of course, the study was done by a team of female mathematicians/statisticians, so we really can't trust the results.

    I'm kidding, don't flame me.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TeknoHog (164938)
      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 @03:30PM (#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 Red Flayer (890720) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:39PM (#28186583) Journal

      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.

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

      And since women tend to work less than men (as a whole, due to traditional family roles), some of them have the luxury of more time for education.

      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.

      • by Eli Gottlieb (917758) <eligottlieb.gmail@com> on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @07:07PM (#28189417) Homepage Journal

        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. [fsu.edu]

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bogjobber (880402)

        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.

        No, you are wrong. This is a terribly serious problem.

        This isn't simply a case of more women getting degrees. It's also that fewer males are getting degrees. Look at the dropout rates in high school for men vs. women, particularly among inner city kids and many ethnic minorities. It's absolutely devastating.

        And this isn't about jobs, this is about education

    • by spinkham (56603) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:42PM (#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.

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

      by quenda (644621) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @07:38PM (#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.

    • Some colleges and universities are preferentially offering more admission spots to male candidates than otherwise they would. Why? In order to redress the gender imbalance that's seeing fewer men than women enroll. (See this article from 2007 in US News & World Report [cbsnews.com].)

      Last month also saw the 2nd Conference on College Men [naspa.org] which also dealt with some of these concerns.

      As an academic and someone who advocates wide access to all sorts of education, I want to see everyone have a chance to study for wha
  • CS (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:32PM (#28186475)

    How about we close that gap in CS now.

    Im so lonely :(

  • by delta419 (1227406) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:32PM (#28186479)

    ...as 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.

  • Bing (Score:5, Funny)

    by goldaryn (834427) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:32PM (#28186481) Homepage
    The only correlation between math and sex that I can see: I don't get either of them
  • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:32PM (#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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rycross (836649)

      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 @03:41PM (#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.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Rycross (836649)
          True, although I just realized that I don't actually know whether there's a scientific basis for that thought. I recall reading that men build muscle mass more easily than women, but I have no idea if that has been empirically tested.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by MrMr (219533)
            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.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by mcvos (645701)

              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?

        • Physical strength (Score:5, Informative)

          by sjbe (173966) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @04:57PM (#28187719)

          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.

          Completely accurate but incomplete. Men on average have significantly higher upper body strength than women. Aside from being simply obvious there is a vast amount of data to support this thesis. Men overall also have greater ability to build muscle than women. One simply has to watch a bodybuilding competition to see the difference in potential. There are some women that exceed many/most men in a given sport but no women that exceed all men when strength matters. Outside of a few niche sporting events, men hold virtually all athletic world records where strength is a meaningful factor. This holds true at every level of competition and every age past puberty. Even at relatively low levels of performance and even with adequate training most women measurably under-perform their male counterparts in most sports. If these differences did not exist, there would be little reason to have women compete separately from the men.

          I cannot reasonably address the mental differences between men and women but there is NO question that men are physically stronger on average or in peak potential. It's ok to admit that there are at least some differences between men and women.

    • by Lord Ender (156273) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:52PM (#28186753) Homepage

      These days, women are intentionally given advantages over men, so it is NOT fair to say that women have proven equality with men.

      For example, my school had all sorts of scholarships available only to women (not men). It had free math tutoring for women (not men). It had many programs available only to women to help them academically and financially.

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

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        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.

        • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @04:56PM (#28187681)

          Nah...

          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 @04:35PM (#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.

      • Draft women? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by sjbe (173966)

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

        That presumes that the ground IS actually equal which I would argue it probably is not equal - not yet anyway, though it is headed in the right direction. Nevertheless I agree with your sentiment that for true equality to exist the playing field should be level and many old prejudices need to die. Personally I'll concede that things are equal or nearly so when women in the US have to register for the draft.

        I've always found it ironic that most women who claim to be for equal rights never seem terribly eag

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by WCguru42 (1268530)

          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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Weezul (52464)

        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

      • by Eli Gottlieb (917758) <eligottlieb.gmail@com> on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @07:18PM (#28189513) Homepage Journal

        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.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by moosesocks (264553)

        For a variety of reasons, my school [wm.edu] tries to shoot for a 55/45 female-to-male split.

        However, the applicant pool is split 65/35 (F/M)

        In other words, admission for females is considerably more competitive than it is for males.

        In my experiences as a student (I recently graduated), I witnessed virtually no anti-female sexism, but plenty of anti-male remarks, many of which were praised and even applauded. (I find it very difficult to take Women's Studies seriously as a field of study, particularly at the underg

    • by CorporateSuit (1319461) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @04:02PM (#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.

      • 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 ppanon (16583) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @05:19PM (#28188047) Homepage Journal

          Malcolm Gladwell and others [wordpress.com] 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 [blogspot.com].

          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.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by logicnazi (169418)
          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 techni

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Chris Burke (6130)

        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 caus

    • I think men are just getting less intelligent and they think differently than they used to. 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. Through unnatural selection, we've thinned our own gene pool. The male gender has become more effeminate and now it seems they think like women instead of men. It's not the women who are getting smarter,
    • by thetoadwarrior (1268702) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @04:21PM (#28187157) Homepage

      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.

      That comment is just as ignorant as anything a bigot would say.

      I'd say it's not boys stopping girls from taking maths in school and it's not boys stopping girls from taking programming. In fact, from my experience in school, and what I've seen, most school aged boys would love to have a girl that was into something that they found cool.

      Sure sexism plays a part in some instances but like everything else it's not black and white. A lot of girls don't do math because that's not where the cool boys are. Their social standing would take a hit if they were caught carrying a calculator and hanging around the nerds and yes believe it or not, a girl's self image means a lot. Hence the market for make-up, push-up bras, high-heel shoes, fad diets and anything else that will make them feel like they're something they're not.

      And no those things aren't forced upon girls either. Which is why girls with a lot of image issues (and especially food issues) go through a lot of boyfriends because the guy gets fed up listing to them talk about what they're not going to eat today.

      It's not the case with all woman, because again, not everything is black and white, but a lot of girls compete amongst each other to attract boys and math will only attract nerds in their eyes.

      So let's not be ignorant and just blame everything on men being some sort of evil being because it's simply not true.

    • 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).

  • Taking vs Excelling (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tanktalus (794810) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:33PM (#28186503) Journal

    I don't really care whether there is a gap or not, but I am a stickler for accuracy. Taking the course is not the same thing as passing or excelling. It's an important metric, but not the only one. Perhaps we have a "traditionally disadvantaged" group being pushed, in the name of equality, into an area they dislike because it doesn't come natural, and they're barely passing. That's not success - that's a failure because these people probably would be more successful in life playing to their strengths rather than weaknesses.

    I'm not saying that's the case. But it's a plausible explanation for the results in TFS, while not dismissing the myth, I'd say they have to do more work and study to proclaim this myth busted.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I'm pretty sure if a woman is being awarded a Ph.D in math she is definitely doing more than barely passing.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Tanktalus (794810)

        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),

      • by Dynedain (141758) <slashdot2 @ a n t h o n y m clin.com> on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @04:13PM (#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 Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:45PM (#28186671) Homepage Journal

      Try reading TFA instead of just TFS. It goes into a reasonable amount of detail, and should help dispel some of your doubts. (Unless, of course, you're already determined to reach the opposite conclusion, in which case there's no reason you should confuse your pretty little head with facts.) Girls perform at least as well mathematically as boys in a number of countries, including those where there's a lot less worry about "traditionally disadvantaged" groups than there is here in the US. You'll have a hell of a time pinning this on political correctness in Korea ...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MozeeToby (1163751)

      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 spinkham (56603) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:38PM (#28186575)

    Obligatory XKCD:
    http://xkcd.com/385/ [xkcd.com]

  • by Manip (656104) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:40PM (#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 istefany (1270868) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:58PM (#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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Locke2005 (849178)
      70% of PhDs in Mathematics go to men and up to 30% go to women. All this tells us is that having a PhD may help you get laid, but if you have nice tits, then you don't need a PhD.
  • Just a thought (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xeth (614132) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:44PM (#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?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bendodge (998616)

      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 designe

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by story645 (1278106)

        Women were designed to have children, not be breadwinners. That's primarily the man's job.

        And they can't do both because? A bunch of my friends are supporting their husbands (it's a cultural thing in certain branches of orthodox Judaism that has to do with learning Torah all day) while having tons of kids. One of 'em had her first while getting her engineering degree and had 2 more while working on construction sites. Lots of girls I know manage at least two before their husbands ever start working. It's difficult, but doable.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by datababe72 (244918)

        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 ch

  • by VinylRecords (1292374) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:47PM (#28186701)

    I was a sports broadcasting and psychology double major in my undergraduate studies. When I was taking sports broadcasting classes it was a total sausage fest. Thirty guys talking about sports in an academic environment as if it was a locker room. Meanwhile in psychology it was always majority female in classrooms ranging from 60% to 90%. It was because sports writing and reporting is a male dominated field, whereas psychology was a necessary field of study for many female students who wanted to teach elementary or middle school, a field traditionally occupied by women. Also my school was 60% female so a typical class would have 60% women which really emphasized how incredibly one sided sports broadcasting was a major regarding gender divide.

    While men and women solve problems differently, our brains are made up differently so that is to be expected, most studies conclude that even though we solve problems differently men and women reach the same conclusions eventually but they take different paths. Both genders are equally smart but think differently to solve the same problems.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_and_intelligence [wikipedia.org]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_differences [wikipedia.org]

  • 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.

    • why oh why (Score:5, Insightful)

      by snl2587 (1177409) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @04:08PM (#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 Zordak (123132) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @04:32PM (#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?

      • by dkleinsc (563838) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @05:10PM (#28187921) Homepage

        And while I'm at it, who's working to close the gender gap in sanitation workers?

        Warren Farrell [wikipedia.org] is a somewhat controversial author on men's issues who has actually spent quite a bit of time exploring this exact question. He proposed, with appropriate evidence, that while women have made great strides in reducing the effects of the "glass ceiling", they tend to ignore the "glass floor" in which men tend to occupy undesirable and often dangerous professions. Examples of these sorts of male-dominated professions include sanitation workers, miners, construction workers, oil rig roughnecks, sailors, farm laborers, police officers, firefighters, and lumberjacks. The reason he proposes for this is really quite simple: the women most involved in feminism tend to be fairly wealthy, and that means that the millions of working-class men in those undesirable professions are essentially invisible to them, whereas the men who are at the top of the food chain are very visible to them, creating a perception that all men are doing better.

  • by davidwr (791652) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:56PM (#28186817) Homepage Journal

    By the time you are 20, your brain has gone through several "windows of opportunity" which are the best time to learn specific skills. For example, the window of opportunity for foreign languages for most people is in preschool.

    If a given culture discourages certain members from learning certain skills until after the window closes, these individuals are now stuck with what might as well be an innate disadvantage in that area.

    For these individuals, it's not important whether they could have been good at this or that if only they had taken classes when they were younger, the important thing is that if they do try to learn it, it will be relatively hard for them.

    Plus, there's the whole issue of experience, someone who starts learning a skill at age 5 will have a 15-year head start on someone who starts learning a skill at age 20.

    --
    As societies, we need to accept the fact that there are very few if any things beyond giving birth or being a wet-nurse that either gender has an inherent advantage in if both are given equal opportunity and encouragement when they are young. All or almost all "gender-specific" advantages are created by the environment in which we live.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @03:58PM (#28186841)

    This is an extremely dishonest story which does not address the most basic issues involved.
    What Summers said at Harvard is supported by the evidence and remains the best explanation
    for the "gender gap." Indeed, he felt confident that he could "get away" with his statements
    because the evidence is so overwhelming and the facts so obvious.

    Consider any number of physical traits the measurement of which is not controversial
    (for instance, height, weight, ratio of arm length to leg length, etc.) A few empirical observations
    can be readily made:

    (1) the distributions are roughly Gaussian --- this make sense as these traits are controlled
    by multiple genes and some version of the central limit theorem is operational

    (2) the means vary by gender and ethnicity

    (3) the standard deviations vary by gender and ethnicity

    (4) a pattern quickly emerges: for virtually all traits the STANDARD DEVIATION
    of the male distributions is somewhat larger than the female distribution --- although
    not by much. Again this makes some intuitive sense --- men are biological more expendable
    then women so more variation in male traits can be tolerated.

    I can hardly be expected to believe that physical traits (the measurement of which is generally
    not controversial) are unique in having property (4). Especially when the observable
    data available for mental traits exhibits a difference in standard deviation.

    This difference in standard deviation predicts what we see in practice --- if we set
    a high threshold and look at the number of men and women with ability above
    that threshold we expect the ratio of men to women to be large. Because this
    is an effect of differences in standard deviation, it is not observable near the
    middle of the distribution --- only at the tails.

    There are many many articles which conclude that there is no gender gap
    in mathematical ability because the mean of the male and female distributions
    are the same or similar. I am not familiar with every such article,
    but every one I have read --- including the two famous Science articles ---
    presents observational data showing a difference in STANDARD DEVIATION.
    An issue none of them seem to address.

    Incidentally, any one familiar with the error function can easily
    see that the variations in the ratio of men to women whose
    mathematical ability exceeds a given threshold by ethnicity are
    also predicated by this approach (to startlingly high accuracy --
    do the math!) This again follows simply from the fact that
    the mean and standard deviation of biological characteristics
    vary by ethnicity

    Everything I have said can be verified to a ridiculously high level of
    certainty by someone with basic knowledge of Stat 101 and a copy
    of Excel.

  • by onkelonkel (560274) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @04:13PM (#28187031)
    There is a branch of Applied Science where discrimination and outdated sexist attitudes still rule. The gender balance there is so heinously skewed that no other explanation is possible. There are those that suggest that perhaps persons of the under-represented gender simply aren't interested in this profession, or perhaps they lack the skills to do well, but clearly they are just making excuses for the sexist bigots that still dominate this field. I'm talking, of course, about the School of Nursing, where only 5% of the graduates are men.
  • 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.

  • Maybe... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @04:31PM (#28187299) Journal
    it's just that men are getting dumber. We have lower enrollments in college. We tend to sit around and watch TV/play video games more than women do. Just a thought.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by bitt3n (941736)
      as a male, I support equality between the sexes by consistently underachieving in every area of my life.
  • by j. andrew rogers (774820) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @04:33PM (#28187325)

    The article is confused about where most of the real differences are purported to be.

    No one credible claims that females have less ability to learn mathematics or crunch numbers in most cases, which is what this article is contesting. In other words, they built themselves a strawman. The differences involve application, not learning.

    What *is* credibly claimed, in the sense that there is not insignificant quantities of direct and indirect evidence in literature, is that females are markedly poorer at certain classes of applied mathematical problems, notably applications involving complex, high-dimensionality metric spaces. Females understand the mathematics just fine, they have relative difficulty applying it to real-world problems when system complexity exceeds a certain threshold. This is largely attributed to male brains having more neurons dedicated to conceptualizing and manipulating spatial relationships.

    There are real differences, but it is mostly in specific areas of the applied side and there is a relatively straightforward causal theory related to brain structure. That people feel it necessary to repeatedly trot out the strawman that women have less ability to learn math while conveniently ignoring supportable arguments for differences in practical ability reeks of a political agenda. There are other biases in application spaces strongly favoring females that also have straightforward causal links related to differences in brain structure but which say nothing about the ability of males to learn.

  • Brain specialization (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wonkavader (605434) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @06:18PM (#28188849)

    This is missing an important point.

    Males have greater brain specialization. (In particular, right handed males have the most.) This is why savants are more likely to be male. Head injuries to males (and especially right-handed males) are more likely to cause the complete and utter loss of some function.

    So you can have female savants, you can have female geniuses, you can have just as many females doing just fine in math, but the overall likelihood is that at the very top of the field, where the people are often badly broken people who specialize in math and seem oddly incapable of anything else, the ratio of males to females will be higher.

    Is this a societal phenomenon rather than a genetic one? While it might be a mix of factors, you absolutely cannot argue that male brains are just like female ones. You need only look at the prevalence of autism in males vs. females to see this. (Unless you're going to argue that autism is all about rearing technique -- in which case we ought to be dressing all our children uniformly in pink.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by datababe72 (244918)

      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.

  • by JustNiz (692889) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @06:21PM (#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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CharlesEGrant (465919)

      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 ea

  • by Stuntmonkey (557875) on Tuesday June 02, 2009 @08:02PM (#28189953)

    There are a couple of things being conflated in this type of research, which to me muddies the water. One question has to do with performance of people not too far from the median. For this question, I believe it's reasonable to look at how achievement test scores vary with factors like gender, race, culture, nationality, socioeconomics, and so forth. The original research cited here involves data of this type. And the conclusion isn't so surprising: Female performance relative to males is very situationally-dependent. Anecdotally one only needs to look at the gender gap (if one exists) in east Asian students vs. the gender gap in white students. *Maybe* white women are at some genetic disadvantage relative to asian women -- again relative to their respective male counterparts -- but it seems unlikely relative to a cultural factor.

    What these lines of research don't really show -- because there isn't enough comparative data available -- is what are the external factors that most correlate with the gender gap within different groups. Is it culture that drives the variation? (Asians have higher expectations on daughters? Asians don't propagate the "geek stigma" as much for girls?) Is it economics? (Poorer people cannot educate all their kids, so preferentially educate the boys?) Or something else? Who knows.

    The second question being conflated is performance at the far, far, end of the performance spectrum. Fields medal winners represent the 99.999+ percentile. Who knows what defines people out there? There aren't enough of them to really study as a statistical emsemble. It's fair to say that at the high end of any performance curve, a lot of things have to come together simultaneously: Raw talent, motivation, opportunity, persistence, environment, dedication. It could be for example that men have no more innate ability than women, but are just more single-minded in their approach to life. I.e., more men than women are willing to do what Andrew Wiles did, namely hole up in an attic for 10 years to prove Fermat's Last Theorem (with a low probability of success).

    Finally, I think with regard to this sort of research it's important to maintain a dispassionate attitude. When I get the feeling the authors are trying to *advocate* for a particular conclusion, that makes me a bit queasy. There seems to be this unstated assumption that an unequal outcome is indicative of unequal opportunity. Would anyone argue that the relative lack of white men in the NBA is indicative of low opportunity or discrimination? Probably not. Perhaps white women don't pursue math at the highest levels because they simply don't want to, compared with other uses for their time. Is this a bad outcome? Within the scientific enterprise it's a very slippery slope to start asserting value judgments about these things.

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