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Most Women Say No to Working in STEM

November 1, 2010

When it comes to working in the STEM fields, two psychological scientists have concluded that most women choose to do otherwise.

Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci (both from Cornell University) developed a study to examine the differences between men and women in math-intensive fields such as physics, electrical engineering, computer science, economics, and chemistry. According to a post on ScienceBlog, they concluded that,  rather than discrimination or supposed innate differences in ability, “the main factor is women’s choices — both freely made, such as that they’d rather study biology than math, and constrained, such as the fact that the difficult first years as a professor coincide with the time when many women are having children.”

Their study found also found that women drop out of mathematics-heavy careers paths. “Almost half of undergraduate math majors in the U.S. are women. A smaller percentage of women go into graduate school in math, and in 2006, women earned 29.6% of math PhDs. Women are also more likely to drop out after they start a job as a professor, often because they are unable to balance childcare with the huge workload required to get tenure. Young male professors are more likely than their female counterparts to have a stay-at-home spouse or partner who takes care of children.”

“You don’t see nearly as many men with doctorates in physics saying, ‘I won’t apply for a tenure-track position because my partner wants to practice environmental law in Wyoming and I’m going to follow her there and help take care of the kids,’” said Williams.

“Universities can and should do a lot more for women and for those men engaged in comparably-intensive caretaking,” Williams concluded.

Their study, titled "Sex Differences in Math-Intensive Fields," appeared in Current Directions in Psychological Science (October 2010).

Source: ScienceBlog (October 26, 2010)

Start Date: 
Monday, November 1, 2010