The dearth of women in STEM fields: a new take

The dearth of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) in the U.S. and U.K. is well known, and it turns out it’s also an issue in other Western countries. It’s usually attributed to sexism that bars women from entering these fields. Other explanations are a difference in interests and preferences: perhaps women prefer to enter fields other than STEM for reasons other than the presumption that they’ll be discriminated against or criticized in the field. That idea—that there are inherent differences in the preferences of males and females (and we don’t know whether these are acculturated, genetically based, or a mixture of these)—was the subject of James Damore’s infamous Google memo, for which he was demonized and, at least in part, fired. (I’m told that Damore had a history of bad interactions at Google.) Finally, one can claim that women have lower abilities in STEM fields than do men, so even if they preferred such studies, the meritocracy would weed them out.

A new paper in Psychological Science (free Unpaywall access; pdf here, reference at bottom) by Gijsbert Stoet and David C. Geary points to the second explanation: consistent differences in preference, and dispels the third, finding no consistent sex differences in abilities. This doesn’t rule out sexism, as they didn’t test for that, but the important factor seems to be preference. That’s because the authors find a strong and counterintuitive correlation between the gender gap in stem degrees and the index of gender equality in countries. In those countries with more gender equality, the gap between men and women in getting STEM degrees is larger. The authors explain that as resulting from a combination of sex-based preferences and the standard of living in different countries.

Let me say first that I think there’s plenty of evidence that men and women differ in their preferences for what kind of work they want to do. I suspect, but don’t know, that part of that difference is based on evolution. After all, men and women have evolved separately for some six million years since we split from our common ancestor with the chimps, and it’s not unreasonable to think that different sex roles over that period led to the evolution of different preferences. I hasten to add that even if this be true, it is no reason to treat men and women unequally or give them different educational opportunities based on their sex. I’ve often emphasized that true equality between the sexes means that nobody be treated differently because of their gender, and that men and women be given the same opportunity from birth to realize their talents and ambitions. But if preferences be different, this may still lead to different outcomes.

It turns out that this is what Stoet and Geary think about the difference between men and women in STEM participation. The paper is a bit complicated, so I may make an error or two in describing the results. I thus urge readers interested in this topic to download the paper and read it for themselves.

The study. The authors used data from PISA, a study of science literacy, mathematics, and reading comprehension in students throughout the world. In this paper the sample was large: 472,242 students from 67 countries (15-16 years old), all assessed for these abilities. Also measured were interest in and enjoyment of science. For the 67 countries, the authors also obtained UNESCO data on college degrees in STEM fields (the range was 12.4% women in Macao to 40.7% wp,em in Algeria, with a median of 25.4% of STEM degrees obtained by women).

Data on “overall life satisfaction” (OLS) was obtained from a UN survey in 2016, using a ten step ladder as a metaphor for life satisfaction (highest at the top), and asking people to imagine which rung of the ladder they stood on.

Data on gender equality as obtained from the World Economic Forum survey in 2015, using data on earnings, enrollment in college, life expectancy, representation in government, and other indicators.

The results:

  • In overall science literacy, women and men were pretty equal throughout the world. As they authors note, “We found that girls outperformed boys in 19 (28.4%) countries, boys outperformed girls in 22 (32.8%) countries, and no statistically significant difference was found in the remaining 26 (38.8%) countries.” That is, there’s no inherent trend for one sex to be better than the other, though there are statistically significant differences among countries. That militates against some inborn difference and suggest that those differences are cultural.

 

  • However, when the authors looked at intraindividual differences in ability, that is, relative ability, they found that women generally ranked higher in reading compared to their average ability, while men ranked higher in science and mathematics compared to their average ability.  Combined with the data above, I interpret this to mean that, overall, men and women are equal in science literacy and math comprehension, but since women have higher reading ability than men, they are higher overall academically. Nevertheless, there’s a big and consistent difference in these areas. As the authors note:

” In all countries except for Lebanon and Romania (97% of countries), boys’ intraindividual strength in science was (significantly) larger than that of girls (Fig. 2b). Further, in all countries, girls’ intraindividual strength in reading was larger than that of boys, while boys’ intraindividual strength in mathematics was larger than that of girls. In other words, the sex differences in intraindividual academic strengths were near universal.

“. . . Another way of calculating these patterns is to examine the percentage of students who have individual strengths in science, mathematics, and reading, respectively. To do so, we first determined students’ individual strength. Next, we calculated the percentage of boys and girls who had science, mathematics, or reading as their personal academic strength; this contrasts with the above analysis that focused on the overall magnitude of these strengths independently of whether they were the students’ personal strength. We found that on average (across nations), 24% of girls had science as their strength, 25% of girls had mathematics as their strength, and 51% had reading. The corresponding values for boys were 38% science, 42% mathematics, and 20% reading.

“. . . The above analyses show that most boys scored relatively higher in science than their all-subjects average, and most girls scored relatively higher in reading than their all-subjects average. Thus, even when girls outperformed boys in science, as was the case in Finland, girls generally performed even better in reading, which means that their individual strength was, unlike boys’ strength, reading.”

Remember, this is a gap in performance between men and women in their individual areas of strength (an “intraindividual gap”), not an absolute gap between individuals.

  • When the authors looked at this “gender gap” in relative performance, they found out that it was larger in countries that were more gender equal. That is, the more equal the country in gender treatment, the greater the relative performance of women in reading over science and math, and the greater the relative performance of men in science and math over reading. Here’s a figure showing that, which also shows you the countries that are more gender equal (higher on the y axis) and those at the bottom (countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Tunisia, and Algeria):

(from paper): Scatterplots (with best-fitting regression lines) showing the relation between gender equality and sex differences in (a) intraindividual science performance and (b) the percentage of women among science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduates. Gender equality was measured with the Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI), which assesses the extent to which economic, educational, health, and political opportunities are equal for women and men. The gender gap in intraindividual science scores (a) was larger in more gender-equal countries (rs = .42).

  • Not only was the intraindividual “gender gap” larger in more gender-equal countries, but the percentage of women getting STEM degrees was lower in more gender-equal countries. Places like Norway, Finland, Sweden, Ireland, and Switzerland, which rank high on gender equality, had a much lower percentage of women among college STEM graduates than less gender-equal countries like the UAR, Tunisia, Turkey, and Algeria. Would you have expected that? The negative correlation is striking (same Y axis: higher Y scores mean more gender equality):

(From paper; first part of caption is the same as in graph above): The percentage of women with degrees in STEM fields (b) was lower in more gender-equal countries (rs = −.47).

What does this mean? The authors interpret this to mean that in countries with greater gender equality (which also have higher life satisfaction, as you might expect), women can exercise their preferences in careers, which is to go into careers that are more reading-oriented than STEM-oriented. They’re able to do that because those societies are also more socialistic, and thus women don’t have to be forced to go into the higher-paying STEM careers simply to get by. In contrast, less gender-equal societies tend to make women pursue STEM careers because those are a faster way out of poverty (such careers tend to be higher paying). Or, as the authors say in academ-ese:

We propose that when boys are relatively better in science and mathematics while girls are relatively better at reading than other academic areas, there is the potential for substantive sex differences to emerge in STEM-related educational pathways. The differences are expected on the basis of expectancy-value theory and are consistent with prior research (Eccles, 1983; Wang & Degol, 2013). The differences emerge from a seemingly rational choice to pursue academic paths that are a personal strength, which also seems to be common academic advice given to students, at least in the United Kingdom (e.g., Gardner, 2016; Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, 2015).

The greater realization of these potential sex differences in gender-equal nations is the opposite of what some scholars might expect intuitively, but it is consistent with findings for some other cognitive and social sex differences (e.g., Lippa, Collaer, & Peters, 2010; Pinker, 2008; Schmitt, 2015). One possibility is that the liberal mores in these cultures, combined with smaller financial costs of foregoing a STEM path (see below), amplify the influence of intraindividual academic strengths. The result would be the differentiation of the academic foci of girls and boys during secondary education and later in college, and across time, increasing sex differences in science as an academic strength and in graduation with STEM degrees.

The fact that the intra-individual differences also decrease with gender inequality would, then, reflect the fact that women are pursuing STEM paths more often in those countries, and those studies reflect on their test scores, narrowing the gap between their reading abilities and their science/math abilities.

What do we do about it? These results (and of course they need to be replicated, and do read the authors’ list of caveats) suggest that in freer, more egalitarian societies, women will be less likely to pursue STEM careers because, for one reason or another, they’re simply less interested in science. That will upset those who think that men and women are equal in preferences, but the data are there. It also leads to the notion that to get more women into STEM fields, the way to do it is not to make societies more egalitarian. Indeed, the way to do it is make them less egalitarian! Nobody wants that!

So what do we do? First, we have to ask whether we really want to strive for full gender equality (equal numbers) in STEM careers—or in careers in which women gravitate.

If women aren’t interested in STEM careers, what is the point of such striving? Well, there are some points; one being that women in STEM careers serve as role models for women who want to be in those fields but may be discouraged by an imbalanced sex ratio. That, at least, mandates that we work to make sure that women face no barriers to entering such careers, as other studies have pointed to gender bias as a bar to entry.  The authors suggest that we find those women who have a higher STEM scores than reading scores, and concentrate on giving them the opportunities to get into STEM. And of course (this is my suggestion), we need to monitor various bars to women’s entry and try to eliminate them; academic departments are doing this now by, among other things, making sure that qualified female candidates are not neglected.

Here’s a short video on the study.

h/t: Paul

__________

Stoet, G. and D. C. Geary. 2018. The gender-equality paradox in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. Psychological Science online; 0:0956797617741719. doi 10.1177/0956797617741719

125 Comments

  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    All I’d want to say right now is there are other fields where presumably women have the same problems, I’d guess philosophy or automotive repair, and as such, I’d dispute the artificial picking of the four fields – no more no less – mentioned. I assume “medicine” is further assumed to be built from _only_ the cited four fields.

  2. glen1davidson
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    When will men be equally represented in fashion? Especially on the catwalk.

    Glen Davidson

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      When will women be equally represented in truck driving and refuse collection?

  3. Merilee
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Sub

  4. a-non
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    “In other words, the sex differences in intraindividual academic strengths were near universal.”

    This tilt in abilities is a point worth absorbing. The unequal distribution observed can be driven by unequal abilities in quite a counter-intuitive way.

    Economists might say that individuals seek a career where they have _comparative_ advantage. In a world in which women were on average better than men in everything, but the male disadvantage was smaller in maths than in reading, you’d still expect to find men congregating there.

    • Posted February 25, 2018 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      Yes, this is what the authors seem to be saying.

    • Helen Hollis
      Posted February 26, 2018 at 2:04 am | Permalink

      When girls were able to be altar servers in the Catholic Church, there was a drop off in many boys interest in it.

  5. Randall Schenck
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    It is a study that should probably consider the cost or money affect as well. After all, these are very costly areas of education, at least in this country where educations are not always free.

    • Fixpir
      Posted February 28, 2018 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      Yes, but the gender bias is similar here in France, where higher education is essentially free.
      Around 30% women in engineering studies, around 60% in medicine school, around 70% in law/judge (École Nationale de la Magistrature).

  6. a-non
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    “If women aren’t interested in STEM careers, what is the point of such striving? Well, there are some points; one being that women in STEM careers serve as role models for women who want to be in those fields but may be discouraged by an imbalanced sex ratio.”

    This is true, but the idea of pushing people to work in careers they don’t want so as to have role models is a strange one. A career is a long thing. How many hundred miserable hours competing for funding with those who love the subject more are worth it, for each hour inspiring high-school students?

    Maybe we should instead teach high-school students scientists’ stories from angles which don’t focus on their genitalia. Focus on their work! Be inspired by Faraday’s intuition from pictures vs Maxwell’s mathematical prowess, perhaps you lean to one side? Or likewise Darwin/Galton. Crick/Watson.

    If, at age 15, you find the human stories of their backgrounds, lives, marriages, etc. more fascinating than their work, their big ideas… then maybe science isn’t your calling. If your teacher likewise is happier discussing whether they looked like you, the maybe she (or he) ought to be teaching literature or social studies, down the hall.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      I wonder how this study defined science. I have always been interested in science but I am beyond weak in math, partly because my teachers were horrible and also biased (they told my parents that girls just can’t do math and I am a girl so no point trying with me). So, would I have shown up as someone who likes science or someone who doesn’t because of my math ability. And would be high performance in language put me in that category instead. I am a language person but I work in STEM….where would I have been placed in this study and would it have changed from childhood to adulthood?

      • Richard Bond
        Posted February 25, 2018 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

        Excellent points.

      • Helen Hollis
        Posted February 26, 2018 at 2:11 am | Permalink

        I am thinking that this study can not possibly be helpful to those of us that are over the age of fourty or more. Our lives were entirely different. My school had a home economics course for crying out loud. Forget science, learn how to bake cookies and sew up a tote bag!

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted February 26, 2018 at 10:28 am | Permalink

          Ha ha! Mine too and I sucked at both those things! They did make boys and girls do this though and take shop (I also sucked at that) but the shop teacher was a real sexist asshole who didn’t think girls should be there. I was fine with that because I didn’t want to be there anyway and would have been happy to be in a science class instead.

  7. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    In discussions like this, I rarely see the mention that perhaps women choose not to go into STEM, not because of genetics but because of environment. These are the so-called confounding variables. My personal experience of having grown up as and with thousands of girls and women is that there is a lower expectation of girls – when a girl does something stupid, it’s cute but when a boy does something stupid, it’s embarrassing. This is especially true in mechanics or knowledge of science. I wasn’t raised that way – there was no cuteness to stupidity or mistakes and surprise, surprise, here I am in a STEM field.

    Also, with the picking of STEM, women are not represented in the less technical parts of STEM. So, project managers and Business Systems Analysts are still male dominated. This is also in contrast to the “computers” of centuries past which were highly technical and filled with women but of course, considered lower jobs.

    So, my conclusion is there needs to be a lot more work into the true root cause of why women do not enter STEM and it needs to address these confounding and messy social science variables (which Steven Pinker has taught us is completely possible).

    • Posted February 25, 2018 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      Yes, but what about the finding that in more egalitarian societies (which, of course, is environmental; the less equal societies tend to be Muslim, which is hardly genetic), fewer women go into STEM fields and fewer women get degrees? One would expect that if “women choose not to go into STEM because of the environment”, then in environments which are more egalitarian in terms of gender, more women should go into STEM fields. Surely bias against women is higher and expectations of women lower, in countries that are more gender UNequal. Or maybe I’m confused about what you’re saying here–that there are other aspects of the environment that outweigh egalitarianism in countries like Norway and Sweden.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 25, 2018 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

        Because just because your society is egalitarian, it isn’t without bias in how girls are raised. I think this is the confounding variable no one addresses because it’s so hidden. Unless you are a girl raised differently than other girls, you don’t always notice how boys and girls are praised and admonished differently. This type of early behaviour modification becomes so ingrained, it is almost impossible to detect as an agent later. Even toy marketing makes a big difference – how many girls had mechano sets growing up? My friends with boy and girl children are trying to break stereotypes for both. My one friend has two boys with long hair and she said she has become acutely aware of bias toward female children when strangers treat her boys “as girls” and speak to them in a completely different way.

        • Christopher
          Posted February 25, 2018 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

          And I’m sure that mothers buying clothing such as sweat pants with the word “Pink” or “Juicy” written across their rear end might have an impact. Women can certainly have a negative impact on their daughters when they raise them to be just like them, even if they never stop to think about what they are doing or why. Same for fathers, obviously, but in my case, I would have bought my fictional daughter tiedye Grateful Dead tshirts, Legos, Star Wars toys, and a baseball glove along with the teddy bears, dolls, and toy kitchen stuff just like I did my son. I only know how the raise a kid by sharing what I love and guiding and helping them with what they love, for better or worse, and he picked and chose what he liked from that. He plays guitar, cooks, but doesn’t like gardening or birdwatching. I can only imagine a daughter would have chosen differently just as if I’d had a second son might have as well. There’s no accounting for taste or interests; parents just gotta throw it out there and see what sticks, the bell or get out of the way.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted February 25, 2018 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

            I actually wasn’t referring to choosing to buy girls tutus or not but more about “isn’t cute that Alice turned on the heater in the car and warmed it up and went to sleep when I asked her to warm up the car? Heee poor girls don’t know any better” vs. mortified embarrassment and a swift correction to a son. This example comes from real life from one of my dad’s friends.

            • nicky
              Posted February 25, 2018 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

              That is a weird example, hypothetical I presume? Or maybe one of your dad’s friends just liked telling stories?
              I think Alice had a better language ability than her parent when asked not to warm up the engine, but the car. Moreover, in many, if not most, cars there is no heating when the engine is not on. Last but not least, what parent right in his/her mind would give the keys to a child to start the engine, with them not having control over clutch, break and accelerator?

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 26, 2018 at 10:23 am | Permalink

                No it’s a true story from a close family friend. It’s one of many of the “awww poor kid didn’t know better” variety. I watched similar behaviour between male and female siblings.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 26, 2018 at 10:23 am | Permalink

                Oh wasn’t a child – teenager with a driver’s licence.

              • nicky
                Posted February 26, 2018 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

                My point is that, if true, she did did know better. And that her parent was very irresponsible.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 26, 2018 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

                And you’re missing the whole point. The parent thought it was cute that she didn’t know better – a licenced driver who grew up just as I did and I knew better. She’s kinda dumb but it was cute.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted February 25, 2018 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

          I never wanted to play with dolls. I kept being asked if I wanted one. I was given funny looks when I said no, but at least I didn’t have one forced on me I suppose.

          I asked for Lego from Santa every year and never got any. I wasn’t allowed to play with my brother’s Meccano. He became a civil engineer.

          When my teachers complained that I didn’t work to my potential, my father told them it didn’t matter because I was only going to get married and have kids anyway.

          It’s great having nieces and nephews – it gives me an excuse to buy Lego. It doesn’t all make it to them!

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted February 25, 2018 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

            I had some dolls and they were okay but I liked animals better so when my parents got my a Yertle the Turtle, I threw the doll out of the doll bed & put Yertle in there. My mom had made clothes for dolly & Yertle got to wear those as well. My preference for animals other than humans has persisted into adulthood. I had lego and meccano & let’s just say that the world is a much safer place with me not designing any bridges or buildings.

            Jerry put Yertle on a post once

            • Heather Hastie
              Posted February 26, 2018 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

              I remember Yertle. He was cute. And what a great name! I think my youngest sister had one. I did have one doll. One of my sisters cut her hair short. She didn’t think it would grow back, but she didn’t get in trouble because Mum thought that’s what she thought. (I’d forgotten about that. I don’t think we should talk about our childhoods any more. I’ll get pathetic and you’ve had enough migraines this month already! )

              • Merilee
                Posted February 26, 2018 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

                So, Diana, you had a cross-dressing turtle? Very open-minded of you😁

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 26, 2018 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

                Talking about childhoods is always best not done!

            • Posted March 10, 2018 at 11:55 am | Permalink

              Who knows? Maybe you’d make an excellent civil engineer! (BTW, we have a joke – not gender-related: “Knowing what an engineer I am, I’m afraid to go to the doctor!”)

          • Brian salkas
            Posted February 26, 2018 at 1:58 am | Permalink

            Heather, I have had some similar experiences with wanting to do things that the other sex was “supposed” to do. Like you, I was never “corrected” despite some serious attempts from people around me. Do you take that as, perhaps, some anecdotal evidence in favor of the innateness of gender differences? In other words, If we could not be changed to be “normal”, then why would we expect that others could have been influenced so easily?

            My answer to that question is that society can make girly-boys and manly-girls miserable by forcing them to conform to rigid gender laws against their will, but it cannot do much to make them feel more normal for their gender. I take a fairly strong stance on the innateness of gender (an empirical claim), and an even stronger stance on letting individuals be individuals (a moral belief).

            • Heather Hastie
              Posted February 26, 2018 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

              I don’t think you can “correct” people from their nature. Different people are interested in different things, and they should be allowed to follow their interests. Their interests shouldn’t be denigrated either. It’s just a small thing, but I was the only one in my family with my particular set if interests and I got mocked for them. It didn’t stop me enjoying them, but I’ve also always felt that my choices were less important. I think it’s damaging to try and change someone.

              At the same time, individuals are different to groups. It’s true that most girls actually do prefer dolls, and I don’t think that’s just nurture. One of my sisters has gone out of her way to ensure there’s no gender bias in the way she brings uo her daughters. She’s still watched one in particular clamber over a room full of toys to get to the single doll when away from home several times. Both daughters love Lego, but they prefer Lego Friends.

              It’s the whole thing of groups being different but there also being a big difference within groups. I think people should be allowed to be who they are, and supported in that as long as it doesn’t harm others.

        • ht
          Posted February 27, 2018 at 11:45 am | Permalink

          Still it is reasonable to assume that you will get less education gender bias in a more egalitarian society right? Or at least not more?

          When you get 20% women in STEM in Norway where 40% of executives are women, if that does not make you doubt, nothing will.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted February 27, 2018 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

            Norway had a policy of hiring women though so it wasn’t so much something that happened naturally but was forced so that there were more women in those positions.

            Further, I’m not saying that the study is invalid, but I am saying that it is not convincing as the root cause because there are so many hidden and confounding variables we haven’t addressed. I think there is still too much noise and not enough signal.

    • nicky
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      Good points. Still, I do think there is a difference in interests. I think girls might be just -or very close- as interested as boys in science and maths, but less in technology and engineering. This study appears to show that these messy social variables are not the main cause (since differences are stronger in more sex-egalitarian societies), but it is undeniable there are some messy confounding social variables. I think our host obliquely (and partially) addressed that with his remarks about role models.
      If we are allowed to split mathematics: I was always struck by how much better the girls in my school were at algebra, while the boys did better in geometry.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 25, 2018 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

        See my response about egalitarianism. I don’t think the variable I’ve mentioned has been accounted for.

        • nicky
          Posted February 25, 2018 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

          I’d think they are variables and probably not the ones we think of.
          Lizard Breath below also noted that in more egalitarian societies, the ‘menial’ jobs are better paid. A variable not addressed as such?

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted February 26, 2018 at 10:25 am | Permalink

            My point is there seems to be a lot of “ah ha!” to stories like these instead of more investigation. Look! The women don’t WANT the jobs! Good, we’re done here. Nothing to see. There is a lot more to this.

            • nicky
              Posted February 26, 2018 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

              Most certainly, I can fully agree, a lot more.

        • wetherjeff
          Posted February 26, 2018 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

          I agree with your point that an egalitarian society doesn’t guarantee girls are raised without bias. However, the data don’t just show there is no correlation – they show a strong inverse correlation between gender equality and equality of the sexes in science performance. If we are accepting that bias in raising girls is, at least partly responsible, those egalitarian societies would surely have to apply the most bias (or some other negative factor) to girls. Furthermore, to correct for all the other disadvantages that women in unequal societies (eg middle east theocracies) experience, the bias in egalitarian societies against girls going into STEM would have to be even stronger. I don’t think this is true, it just doesn’t match the data or make sense to me.
          I have seen similar studies showing that where women have more freedom they choose to work less hours and take more leave than men. This suggests to me that societal bias and cultural influences are not the only factors, and are likely not the biggest factors either.
          I live in the UK and have worked in STEM for a couple of decades. As such I think I have decent knowledge of the labour market, at least in my field of software and infrastructure engineering. In that time, I have sadly met no more than five or six women in technical roles, which is a real shame.
          I’m a senior engineer at a large software company and there are five other people on my team, all guys. To get hired in such a job you HAVE to be geeky, and almost obsessive about coding, maths and computer science in general. If not, you will never attain the level of skill and experience required. The truth is that I have never met a woman with the same obsessive level of interest in computing as me and my colleagues. In my experience the women I have known that were interested in the technical stuff moved to more people-oriented roles such as project or service delivery management.
          I have two daughters and ever since they were very young I have tried to get them interested in computers and computer science. Even though I tried since before they could talk they have never shown any interest at all, and these days as young teenagers they just tell me to shut up because ‘it’s boring’. I just can’t understand why they don’t find it fascinating like I do. On the other hand, my nephew finds computer science fascinating.
          I am on the autistic spectrum, and I believe at least a couple of my five colleagues would be too if they were assessed. There are many more in the department that would probably qualify too. I have repeatedly observed that the more technical a person’s job is, the more they tend to display autistic traits. Interestingly there is a theory developed by Simon Baron-Cohen, an influential autism researcher from Cambridge University, that could help explain why STEM subjects are favoured by men rather than women.
          Baron-Cohen theorises that the autistic brain is just an extreme ‘male’ brain, that is one which is interested more in objects than people, more obsessed with technical detail than interpersonal relationships. He has performed research demonstrating that autistic people were exposed to considerably higher levels of testosterone in utero, compared with neurotypical people. The research is not conclusive but very interesting nevertheless.
          Given the above I am not the best at understanding behaviour and emotion, but It’s clear to me that nearly every STEM engineer I know would love there to be more women in STEM technical jobs – I certainly would. We would be delighted to break the monotony of desk after desk being filled by geeky, often boring men with little personality. I even suspect there would be bias toward employing a woman if she were similarly qualified to a male applicant. In fact, I’m almost certain of that. However, over the last two decades I have seen very few female applicants pursuing technical jobs, and even fewer wanting the most senior technical jobs.
          I realise this is all anecdote but I have heard similar observations from virtually every other techy I know. I also realise that these observations do not account for factors that I don’t perceive or recognise e.g. those regarding socialisation of girls. Indeed, this email may even reflect bias on my part. However, given the evidence I feel it would be difficult to conclude that women have the same innate level of interest in engineering as a career, at least anywhere near as much as men.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted February 26, 2018 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

            However, I’m not concluding that women have the same innate interest. I’m saying I don’t know and I don’t know because the evidence isn’t convincing and the evidence isn’t convincing because I don’t see all the variables explored. I think all this study tells us is there is still a lot of signal to noise ration. The fact that you don’t see women in your profession, isn’t conclusion that women don’t want to do it. We don’t know what the conclusion is. Throughout this thread, my argument has been that we are too quick to conclude that “women just don’t want to do it” yet so many have tried to push that I am wrong somehow and indeed “women just don’t want to do it” but the evidence isn’t strong enough to convince me.

      • Posted February 26, 2018 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

        Certain undergraduate science programs in many places are primarily women now – psychology, for example.

      • Posted March 10, 2018 at 11:58 am | Permalink

        My observations about the interests of (average) boys and girls are the same.

    • Jamie
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      Absolutely! One cannot conclude based on adult “preferences” that unequal participation in STEM is not sexist unless one first rules out any role for sexism in forming those preferences. I have the same skepticism towards these “preferences” that I have towards hijabis who claim to “chose freely”. The demonstration that women in a position to chose may steer away from STEM is interesting, and it does force one to confront the possibility of a genetically influenced gender role, but it is far from conclusive.

      Boys and girls are socialized differently. We have studies from the seventies showing unconscious behaviors such as “preferentially” holding female infants face to face while holding male infants facing away from the holder. Is it genetic or learned behavior? It is quire easy as a parent to decide to hold one’s son face to face more often and one’s daughter facing the world. It is hard to see how this is not simple acculturation. And easy to see that ignoring 18 or 20 years of such acculturation and looking only at what adults do will never tell you what role sexism has in shaping our world.

      As to the question of what should we do to ensure women are welcome in STEM fields, I would suggest we work on issues of funding and job conditions that would benefit everyone in the fields. An inescapable part of what scientists do is compete for scarce funds. Add to that a toxic atmosphere of individual aggrandizement suited to male acculturation and you don’t need formal barriers to entry to keep women from choosing to enter these fields.

      When modest contributions at the bench and team effort mean as much as genius and celebrity perhaps gender issues in STEM will disappear.

      • Davide Spinello
        Posted February 25, 2018 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

        I hate to repeat, but have looked at the plot above showing that countries with shariah law have almost twice the percentage of women in STEM with respect to Sweden?

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted February 25, 2018 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

          See my comments about egalitarianism. It doesn’t mean your egalitarian society is without built in biases. Sure, this could play a factor but it isn’t the only thing going and I don’t think you can automatically conclude that women don’t enter STEM solely because they don’t prefer it. There is still societal bias acting and we don’t know how strong that bias is.

      • chris
        Posted February 25, 2018 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

        What you seem to be saying is that we should change the culture in STEM fields to make them more accommodating to women. Alternately we could change how we socialize women to make them more accommodating to STEM field culture.

        • Helen Hollis
          Posted February 26, 2018 at 2:19 am | Permalink

          How we socialize women?
          I am really sorry, but that did not come off well.

        • Jamie
          Posted February 26, 2018 at 11:11 am | Permalink

          I do not see these as mutually exclusive. I think we need to be more thoughtful about how we socialize children along gender lines, what purpose that serves, and the harm it does to both boys and girls. We also need to be more thoughtful about the social environment in science. Of the two, I see making the culture of science less individual and competitive and more social and collaborative as the easier (therefore shorter term) project. Eliminating sexism from our culture entirely is a more difficult, longer term, project. There are people who resist both projects. People who seem to benefit from current arrangements and people who rationalize gender roles as “right”, “natural” and “traditional”, who are comfortable with their own role and feel threatened by the notion that such a role may not be inherently “right” or “natural” even if it is traditional. Neither project is easy. We don’t even have a singe shared definition of ‘sexism’, never mind an agreed policy of how children ought to be socialized.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted February 26, 2018 at 11:54 am | Permalink

            Well said.

          • nicky
            Posted February 26, 2018 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

            I remain a bit sceptical about parents ‘socialising’ their children, for a great part they ‘socialise’ themselves, and their peers ‘socialise’ them too. c.f. Judith Harris.
            I did buy into ‘socialised gender roles’ inculcated by parents at the time, I actually really believed it. I tried to ‘socialise’ my children basically ‘gender neutral’, did not work.

            • Merilee
              Posted February 26, 2018 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

              Same here. I gave my daughter a Little Tykes dump truck, but she wasn’t terribly interested. She was probably better at Lego than my son, bur my son loved, and still loves, all machines.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 26, 2018 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

                I was pissed because my cousins had a metal tonka truck. My parents couldn’t afford those kind of toys. I did have so-called “dinky” cars, which I liked playing with & a collection of plastic dinosaurs. I had a bunch of Star Wars action figures but those too were expensive. I have friends (all men) who had all the Star Wars stuff & I thought it was sad we didn’t know one another as children.

          • chris
            Posted February 26, 2018 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

            “We also need to be more thoughtful about the social environment in science. Of the two, I see making the culture of science less individual and competitive and more social and collaborative as the easier (therefore shorter term) project. ”

            The culture of science is likely at least part of what has attracted the current crop of scientists (including female scientists)to science in the first place. Change it and you may attract a different crop of people but it won’t necessarily be a more diverse crop of people.

    • chris
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      “My personal experience of having grown up as and with thousands of girls and women is that there is a lower expectation of girls – when a girl does something stupid, it’s cute but when a boy does something stupid, it’s embarrassing.”

      Curious. My personal experience was almost the exact opposite. Girls (like me) were embarrassed when they did something stupid in school. Boys laughed it off. Yet here I am in a STEM field as well, assuming you consider biology to be STEM.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 25, 2018 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

        I’m talking bigger than school. See my example elsewhere in here about how it was cute that a girl misunderstood “warming up the car” to man putting on the heater.

        • chris
          Posted February 25, 2018 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

          Again, not my experience. If anything girls were expected to be more responsible than boys.

    • ht
      Posted February 27, 2018 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      In computer sciences it is extremely clear that women are less represented in more technical jobs and more in managerial / sales / communication / whatever else positions.

      After 20 years in the field I have never met a single female system administrator. That probably exists but I would say the gender ratio is at least 99/1.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 27, 2018 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

        I used to be a system admin back in the day. How do you do. 🙂

  8. Posted February 25, 2018 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Add to this the fact that motivation comes from trials and successes (we motivate ourselves through success or the imagination of future successes), not from some outside source (as much as the people selling “Motivation” try to convince us of the opposite being true). So if boys try science and succeed and girls try other things and succeed, they will both be motivated to continue.

    My personal observation is that college teachers, even of the physical sciences, tend to be more androgynous than the general population. So, an orientation to facts is blended with a need to establish trusting relationships and an occupation that appeals to men and women both. Therefore it attracts males who have a strong feminine side and females who have a strong male-side. Over my 40+ year career teaching chemistry in community colleges I saw chemistry departments evolve from being heavily male to being balanced to being majority female. University teaching allows “professors” to teach less and do research more, so they will tend to be male-dominated longer and I won’t probably live to see whether I am right due to being old and university hires becoming more and more part-time.

    On Sun, Feb 25, 2018 at 11:16 AM, Why Evolution Is True wrote:

    > whyevolutionistrue posted: “The dearth of women in STEM (science, > technology, engineering, and mathematics) in the U.S. and U.K. is well > known, and it turns out it’s also an issue in other Western countries. It’s > usually attributed to sexism that bars women from entering these field” >

  9. Richard Bond
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    I really would like to see Fabiola Gianotti emphasised as a role model for girls who might consider a science career. She was elected as their project leader by her three thousand colleagues on the ATLAS experiment to find the Higgs boson. Then she was elected by the whole of CERN as Director-General of the organisation.

    • Merilee
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      +many for Fabiola G. Very impressive role model.

  10. nicky
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Interesting study, but not really counterintuitive for those parents that have both girls and boys. These different interests are so very obvious. It also appears to vindicate Mr Damore’s ideas.

    One weakness is that the four different fields are lumped together, I’m sure that women are more interested in some science fields (such as biology and medical research) than in ‘technology’ and engineering. If split into four, I guess results would even be more distinctive.

    There is another small detail, not about the study, but about our host’s comments. “After all, men and women have evolved separately for some six million years since we split from our common ancestor with the chimps, and it’s not unreasonable to think that different sex roles over that period led to the evolution of different preferences.” Did the different sex roles suddenly start with the split from our common ancestor with chimps? Chimps do definitely have different ‘sex roles’ too, as do Gorillas and Orangutans, and basically all mammals, if not all sexual species. I think the difference in sex roles is much older, probably closer to some 60 (radiation of mammals) or even 600 million (radiation of complex multi-cellulars) years.

    • Florent
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      I was going to ask a similar question : we always get back the same mantra => it’s “culture”. Fine. But as everything, culture has to come from something ; the bias that we build in our societies may come from a group – males – imposing their weil on the shaping of said society, but then, where does that male dominance come from ? Patriarchy ? Culture ? What a loophole…

      I agree with you that this must come from so much further in the past than we imagine.

    • Gamall
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      I had the same reaction at ” After all, men and women have evolved separately for some six million years since we split from our common ancestor with the chimps”.

      Worse, the sentence could, with bad faith, be read as claiming that men and women are different species.

  11. Craw
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    What should we do? Nothing. Let people make their own choices. More people like George Michael than Bartok. That that does not align with my preference or wishes is no warrant for me to “do” something about it. Worry about actual people who are prevented from doing what they want, not about divergence from a preconceived desideratum.

    • Lizard Breath
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

      Girls/women are still being prevented from doing what they want.

      • Hunt
        Posted February 26, 2018 at 2:45 am | Permalink

        Prove it.

        I’m sincere. For every article I read like this:

        http://gender.stanford.edu/news/2014/why-does-john-get-stem-job-rather-jennifer

        There’s an article like this:

        http://news.cornell.edu/stories/2015/04/women-preferred-21-over-men-stem-faculty-positions

        So what’s a poor schmuck to believe?

        • Lizard Breath
          Posted February 26, 2018 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

          I have myself filed and won a sexual discrimination lawsuit so, really, I have no patience with “prove it” challenges. Google is your friend. Here’s an article. There are plenty more. Read the comments on this thread. Talk to and LISTEN to some women and minorities. https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2016/03/21/471234948/barriers-for-women-today-may-be-less-visible-but-not-less-real

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted February 26, 2018 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

            Good article!

          • Hunt
            Posted February 27, 2018 at 2:31 am | Permalink

            That’s a good data point, but the claim is that women are systematically hindered in science, which is hard to show in the face of studies like the second one I cited (which I googled, btw).

            The first one, significantly I think, used resumes for a lab management position, and showed bias against women. It may well be that women are more prone to drift out of that position, creating a conscious or unconscious bias against them, especially when getting a qualified manager up to speed is probably a pain.

            The second article indicates that the dearth of women is a “supply side” effect, and demand is high. Institutions are falling over themselves to hire qualified women; they just aren’t there, and they drop out starting early on. There’s already a gap at the end of high school (Not in the article, but true).

            The article you posted subsumes the social aspect of the STEM gap into the presumed bias against women, which is a novel new tactic. There’s an argument to be made that women don’t choose STEM because the architecture of society pressures them into making other plans, but this has nothing to do with bias internal to STEM. This is a bit of goalpost moving to eliminate an objection by reframing the problem.

  12. Jon Gallant
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    A couple of years ago, the students at Stanford University voted against a course in “Western Civilization” because the latter civilization was the unique world source of all kinds of “oppression”. The students were evidently not acquainted with the data for the Global Gender Gap Index. The Y axis of the graphs above show that 7 of the 8 lowest scores are for Muslim majority countries; 13 of the 14 highest scores are in Europe, plus New Zealand of the Anglosphere.

    Accordingly, the mere presentation of graphs like those risks charges of “Islamophobia” and “white supremacism”. Perhaps, as some of our colleagues in post-modern departments insist, graphs and numerical data of any kind are inherently imperialist, colonialist, and, uhhh, a form of “hate speech”.

  13. Dale Pickard
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    This kind of social science seems to be so highly contrived that it’s hard to take it seriously – one way or another.
    In a world in which individuals are without choice or will, the idea of “preference” must necessarily be an illusion anyway.

    • Davide Spinello
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      Of course, reality is racist and sexist. Don’t engage the merit of the data and proposed explanations, just dismiss generically.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      I’m no expert, but you appear to have a misunderstanding of determinism.

      Our preferences come from all the things that influence our lives. We’re not wandering like mindless automatons. We can identify problems and put measures in place to try and influence future outcomes. That’s one of the reasons it’s important to understand what influences people.

      Assuming that more women in STEM is a desirable outcome, we need to understand why they’re not there at the moment before we can put effective measures in place to change things. This study is important because it may show that our understanding of the reasons women aren’t in STEM are wrong, and therefore our efforts to influence future outcomes was never going to work.

      • Dale Pickard
        Posted February 25, 2018 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

        My comments were rather tongue in cheek.
        Nonetheless that seemed to be what the study was showing that given the opportunity the disparity in STEM fields was a function of sex. I don’t believe it myself – obviously, to the extent the data are true they are explainable by a myriad of other data that proscribe the situation without resorting to “preference” – which is a very libertarian free will kind of idea.

        I think all people should be given the opportunity to be who they want to be. I don’t think studies like this should be used to promote the idea that women “prefer” one thing or another. Or to defend unfair culture bias where it exists. Good enough?

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted February 25, 2018 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

          I think we’re understanding “preference” differently in this context, and I’m sorry I misunderstood you. I don’t think it’s promoting that women should do a certain thing, it’s presenting and analysing data. As I understand it, they mean preference as natural ability rather than choice.

  14. nicky
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    This study is focusing on the top part of the ‘human hierarchy’, although not including other highly rated fields, such as say entrepreneurs.
    But we definitely want to see more female gravediggers, sewage-workers, garbage collectors and conveyor belt workers, don’t we? 🙂

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      Women are already in the majority of conveyor belt workers. You may be only thinking of certain types, like car assembly lines, where because it was manufacturing, men were traditionally assumed to be better. It’s now largely recognized that unless upper body strength is required, women are better.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted February 25, 2018 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

        Most certainly. Women have always been the go to on the conveyor belt or any repetitive work. They do it better and faster. Since the females filled the workforce during WWII this has been known.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 25, 2018 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

        Yes and typically it is women who work the very dirty and dangerous jobs of sorting through recycling and composting in cities on conveyor belts.

      • nicky
        Posted February 25, 2018 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

        I stand corredted.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted February 26, 2018 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

          You’ve got the broadest general knowledge of just about anybody I’ve ever come across. You’re allowed to get one thing wrong every now and then just like the rest of us. 🙂

  15. mrclaw69
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Not sure if I’m being an idiot or not, but it doesn’t appear to be unpaywalled for me. Costs $35, or requires account or institutionali access.

    Anyone able to help? Thanks.

  16. Posted February 25, 2018 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Looking at the scatterplots, I would say the rs largely reflects a few outliers. Running the correlations again without three Scandinavian countries and three Muslim countries would result in a pretty flat plot, I think. This opens up the possibilty that the results reflect some country-specific idiosyncratic factors.

    • Brian salkas
      Posted February 26, 2018 at 1:32 am | Permalink

      That is interesting. But even if the plot is flat after removing certain countries, it seems counter intuitive to me that the correlation between gender equality index rating and number of women graduating in STEM fields is not positive. That alone in an interesting finding. Even though I am far on the opposite side of the social constructionists when it comes to gender (and most individual differences), I am surprised to not see some significant positive correlations on those graphs.

      This may reflect innate differences between males and females but it could also mean that the changes that society has made so far have not impacted STEM fields. I think the former is more probable but the later is by no means impossible.

  17. mirandaga
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Besides looking at sexual preferences, we might also consider the masculine nature of science itself as reflected in its origins. Francis Bacon (1561-1626), in sounding the battle cry for a “New Science” based on “the power and dominion of the human race over the universe,” proclaimed: “We must put nature to the rack and compel her to answer our questions.” This sentiment was heartily seconded by Baconian Thomas Sprat’s assertion that “the Beautiful Bosom of Nature will be Expos’d to our view.”

    Surely these metaphors—virtual prototypes of sexual harassment—are neither merely coincidental nor irrelevant to the evolution of the scientific enterprise. Nature’s been on the rack for over 300 years now and has answered questions of inestimable benefit to humankind, but—not surprisingly given Bacon’s metaphor—she’s not holding up all that well.

    • Posted February 26, 2018 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      This is an old trope. Alan Soble, Cassandra Pinnick, Susan Haack and others have also answered it.

      In any case, it is clear historically that Bacon’s scientific influence was almost nil. His philosophy of science does not work and was never adopted by any practicing scientist (even Boyle, who comes close) that I know of. His slogan (‘nothing in words’) was adopted by the Royal Society, and that’s about it.

      Besides one would have to show (as Haack I believe points out) that the “motivational metaphors” somehow act on people hundreds of years later without having read them, etc.

      • mirandaga
        Posted February 27, 2018 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

        If Bacon’s influence were a negligible as you claim, it seems odd that Soble would go to such lengths in his “Defense of Bacon” to answer the charges made by Helen Fox Keller and others. Why bother? I side with Keller on this, if only because Soble is far too smug and patronizing for my tastes.

        In any case, the point here is not about scientific method, but about scientific culture and the part it played as the Scientific Revolution gave birth to the Industrial Revolution. The study of nature came to be less about philosophical principles and more about stimulating the economy. A case could be made that the exploitation of nature for profit is solidly rooted in Bacon’s (and others’) metaphors, regardless of how many people are familiar with them.

    • nicky
      Posted February 26, 2018 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

      Do you think Newton’s ‘Principia’ is a ‘rape manual’?

      • mirandaga
        Posted February 27, 2018 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

        I think Sandra Harding’s use of the term unfortunate and a bit over-dramatic, but her point about our taking Newton’s mechanistic metaphors to heart while considering his sexist metaphors irrelevant is a telling one that hasn’t been effectively refuted. But then I haven’t read Newton to the extent that I have Bacon, so I’m not really in a position to judge.

  18. Posted February 25, 2018 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    I saw this a few days ago. Everything being as equal as we have achieved, women, at least, would prefer to be happy rather than necessarily choose a STEM career which can add risk or stress to life.

    When social, economic burdens are adjusted to be the same for men and women then why should women choose STEM? Why not choose art, music, design, etc.? These fields may provide more happiness.

    I took the article to suggest that given as many potential opportunities as possible women would tend to choose ones which would maximize happiness. I am not sure that I saw that is a bad thing. In some ways that’s a smarter thing than men would choose.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      It is sensible for anyone to choose a career in which they will be happiest. Women are less likely to be able to do this, especially when they’re poor or uneducated, than men.

      And if you are saying women’s jobs are less stressful because they’re not in STEM, you’re simply wrong.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

      If that were true, none of us would have children.

    • Helen Hollis
      Posted February 26, 2018 at 2:37 am | Permalink

      I really hope being a police officer or firefighter in the City of Chicago adds a lot more risk and stress to your life then a STEM field does, woman or man. And we have both here.

      • Helen Hollis
        Posted February 26, 2018 at 2:39 am | Permalink

        I say this, not because I want police officers or firefighters to have more stress, but to illuminate the difference in what I may see as stress compared to what Kevin may see as stress. Maybe Kevin feels that being in a STEM field is more stressful.

  19. Angela
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    I definitely agree with others who state that bias and sexism are still very prevelant in egalitarian societies. When I was in elementary school, our teachers would only call on and help the boys with math problems. The girls were ignored. On the other hand, the boys were ignored when it came to learning reading and spelling. Our teacher, who was female, by the way, actually told us girls can’t learn math and boys aren’t good at reading so there was no point in teaching us what we were incapable of learning. At such a young, impressionable age this bias really sticks with you.

    I love science but always struggled with math. I even have a science degree but never got to use it as I couldn’t get a job out of college. That is the one thing about my life I regret and I have to wonder how much of that is my fault and how much is due to societal biases. All my life I heard that the only thing girls should want is to find a husband and have kids. Otherwise you are not a true woman. I guess I am not a true woman since I never married or had kids but I will not make apologies for my love of science no matter how much I am treated like a freak because of it.

    I hope girls nowadays don’t face this kind of bias at a young age like I did but I’m not hopeful since western society is still so macho and women can be as bad as men in enforcing harmful stereotypes.

  20. Posted February 25, 2018 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    First, it’s encouraging to see that such questions even can be asked. One also needs to note that variance may be as important as the mean in such comparisons. If, for example, the male population has greater variance for STEM relevant attributes (whether genetic or environmental), one would expect to see more men in high prestige STEM careers (say physics professors at elite universities) as well as more “gravediggers, sewage-workers, garbage collectors and conveyor belt workers” (with thinks to nicky above).

  21. Dick Veldkamp
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    I must say that I am not that impressed by the two graphs shown: the point clouds are not even “cigar shaped”, meaning that the trend line does “explain” very little of the total variation. That is in line with the small rs value (I assume rs is the correlation coefficient).

    Also notice that the maximum effect (distance on the y-axis over the trend line range) is not large.

    So the question is: “Is there something to explain i.e .is there a meaningful relation between x and y?” Even if this line is significant, does it mean much? Clearly there are other factors at work, or there is a lot of noise.

    For some reason I cannot access the aoriginal article, my question might be addressed there.

  22. barube
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Great post. Thanks! I am mighty tired of this women in stem business. Why doesn’t anyone look into why there aren’t many males in nursing; mining; fishing etc.

    • Posted March 10, 2018 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      I think that mining and fishing are male-dominated fields.

  23. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    My quibble with the Abstract is in the very first line:

    The underrepresentation of girls and women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields is a continual concern for social scientists and policymakers.

    We cannot tell without a great deal more work whether the lower number of girls and women in STEM fields is an underrepresentation or not. Even if we could ensure that STEM promotion was gender neutral, that racism and sexism didn’t occur etc., we don’t know how personal preferences would affect the degree of representation by gender.

    • Posted February 25, 2018 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

      I think what they mean here is “underrepresentation compared to representation in society as a whole.”” The concern is always that the proportion of women in STEM is so much less than in the population at large. And that’s true: that’s what the concern is about.

  24. Posted February 25, 2018 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    So many good comments. So many facets to consider.

    Girls being raised differently from boys and taught to have different preferences has to be considered in the mix. But this has changed over time; maybe not as fast or as much as some of us want, but there is change.
    For example: secretaries always used to be men, but then became predominantly women’s jobs. Nursing used to be exclusively women’s jobs, but with wages increasing and the need for more nurses, there are many male nurses now. Doctors used to be exclusively male, but there are many more female doctors now. I know female auto mechanics, and female telephone repairwomen who climb poles just like the men. We know that women can be soldiers, as in many countries they are, and in some are required to serve. If people of whatever gender can, and choose to do something, go for it. Things can, have, do, and will change.

    While it seems to be the case that western students are taught history from a Eurocentric perspective, if they were taught world history covering a more extensive period of time, they’d discover that scientific and mathematical, etc., advances came from all over the world at different times.

    The preferences and abilities of the individual need to be considered, certainly.
    Do they have the skills and education for whatever it is? Are jobs available at reasonable wages or are STEM graduates destined to work at McDonald’s after university? Reading vs STEM abilities aside, women and men do not always think the same way and women could not only act as guides for other “girls” who want to achieve, but could possibly provide a previously unconsidered perspective to the benefit of all.

  25. Lizard Breath
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    There would be a lot more men teaching kindergarten if kindergarten teachers were highly respected and well paid.

    There would be a lot more women in STEM careers if discrimination, harassment and glass ceilings weren’t part of the deal. Women in low egalitarian societies choose these fields because they pay significantly more and are more respected – balancing the negatives.

    But women in STEM careers in high egalitarian societies aren’t free of discrimination and harassment (though perhaps to a lesser extent). But those same egalitarian societies make more traditional female careers better paying and more respected – making the trade-off less appealing. Why would a woman accept all the extra grief that comes with a STEM field when they can choose a more traditional and socially acceptable career that is well paying and respected?

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

      “There would be a lot more men teaching kindergarten if kindergarten teachers were highly respected and well paid.”

      And if it wasn’t for the incidence, in the past few decades, of witch-hunts and moral panics about ‘child abuse’ – which tend to victimise male teachers more than female. Who wants to take up a profession where some zealous and over-excited parent can destroy your career?

      cr

      • Posted March 10, 2018 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

        In my country, teaching in preschool and kindergarten is a female-only occupation, and I find this right. I think that denying a desired career to hundreds of nice men is a small cost compared to the damage that a single predator could do if let into this field.

    • Posted March 23, 2018 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      Ages ago – maybe about ten years, long enough that I’ve forgotten all the relevant info like author, title, journal – I read a study that had been done on women in engineering graduate programs, testing the hypothesis that the social environment of the lab made a difference in women’s continuing in engineering education. The issue wasn’t “discrimination” or “bias,” but culture. (More or less, the hypothesis seemed to be: most women just don’t really want to spend all their time hanging out with the guys on Big Bang Theory, even when they’re not being ogled, propositioned, or having their experiments sabotaged). The findings seemed to support that hypothesis, according to the authors. That social/cultural environment factor may be a component of the “grief that comes with a STEM field” and might have something to do with the preferences argument, assuming the preferences argument is valid.

  26. Gabrielle
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    “There would be a lot more men teaching kindergarten if kindergarten teachers were highly respected and well paid.”

    I think this is an excellent point to make. Men still in our society are pushed to go into fields that are well-paid or at least pay enough to support a family. While the variety of fields that women can choose to go into here in the US have vastly increased over the last 50 years, the same can’t be said for men, though there is some change happening in that regard.

    When I was earning my BS in chemistry 40 years ago, I was surprised to hear male students say that they were in science/engineering or pre-med because that’s what their parents wanted, rather than being what they themselves wanted. It wasn’t that they didn’t have aptitude to study these subjects by and large, it was simply that they never considered doing anything else career-wise. There didn’t seem to be much choice going on.

    I can’t recall where I read this, but in some developing countries, a good proportion of women go into technical fields in college because they want to make their countries more technologically advanced. Everyone, male or female, is encouraged to study subjects that are practical in nature.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

      The claim of STEM proponents is not merely that STEM is important (that I agree with), or anything else, but that it pays well.

      • Gabrielle
        Posted February 25, 2018 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

        Yes that, and the mythology out there that there are tons of STEM jobs going unfilled, and that we’ll fall behind other countries if we don’t turn out thousands and thousands of STEM graduates, and so on. It’s a mythology that’s been around at least since the 1950s. This also plays a role in the efforts to get women to study STEM subjects.

        I believe what would be worthy to study what proportion of women getting STEM degrees remain in those fields or move on to others, or drop out all together, compared to their male counterparts.

        • Posted February 25, 2018 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

          It also would be useful to know what kinds of jobs in STEM women are hired into vs. males with the same education, degree(s) and comparative abilities. Women often are put in lab jobs and other supportive roles whereas men are given more prestigious, higher paying jobs.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted February 25, 2018 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

            The more prestigious, higher paying jobs tend to be managerial/administrative – at which most people are crap. (I have no idea whether men or women have more natural aptitude for ‘management’, I suspect they’re both equally crap).

            cr

          • chris
            Posted February 26, 2018 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

            I think though to understand what that meant one would also have to know what kind of jobs in STEM women apply for versus men with the same qualifications. If more women are hired into supportive roles because more women apply for such jobs and more men are hired into more prestigious jobs because those are the jobs that they apply for, is that discrimination or is that choice? In either case how would one go about ‘correcting’ that, assuming one believed that it needed to be corrected?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 26, 2018 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      However, in Canada those jobs are well paid (teaching) but men don’t go into them. That’s often because they are considered a “sissy” if they want to go into teaching children or medical care. I roll my eyes every time someone says “male nurse”. Do we really have to add the “male”?

      • chris
        Posted February 26, 2018 at 11:38 am | Permalink

        You roll your eyes every time someone says “male nurse”; I roll my eyes every time someone says “female scientist”.

  27. Posted February 25, 2018 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    Fascinating finding.

  28. Yergen
    Posted February 26, 2018 at 2:51 am | Permalink

    If I interpreted it correctly, it is also true that even when girls are better than boys in STEM, their strongest field is still reading.

    One aspect of an egalitarian society is that its members are more free to choose careers by interest rather than necessity (which is already commented on previously), so there is nothing strange about the findings in the study.

    I guess we would not want girls to change their behaviour to choose careers they do not want, so an interesting question for me is why girls so consistently are relatively stronger in reading. The nature vs nurture in this will provide an answer to the question of how to move forward.

  29. samitchell79
    Posted February 26, 2018 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    Grrr

  30. Posted March 10, 2018 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    I think that if we seriously want to remove bareers to women in STEM, we should look closer into the PhD, postdoc, residency and other programs in this field. Their main purpose is exploitation of the younger generation by the older, they have a tendency to extend and intensify, and they often mean that a woman cannot enjoy a secure job before she is out of her reproductive age. (Of course, any improvements in this respect will benefit young men as well.)

  31. Posted April 22, 2018 at 1:37 am | Permalink

    This study is curious but by no means diffinitive of anything. In my own experiance malignant sexism thrives in male-centric environments and girls and women know this. It’s an enormous reason not to get into a STEM field. Don’t believe me just look how women are treated in Silicon Valley… harassed into attending ‘sex parties’, not hired or demoted if they refuse. Who wants to put up with that?! I dreamed of being a paleontologist when I was young, all the women in my life actively discouraged me from this male dominated field until something remarkable happened – girls who watched Jurassic Park growing up (which featured a female paleontologist) flooded the field. It’s no longer male dominated.

    • Posted April 22, 2018 at 7:17 am | Permalink

      You are dismissing the data with NO reason except that you don’t appear to like them and it goes against your own personal experience. You’ll have to do better than this. Besides, nobody is doubting that sexism remains in STEM fields, but the article, which you have NOT attacked, says that the more egalitarian the society, the less representation of women in STEM. I would say that your “anecdotes” are “by no means ‘diffinitive” of anything.”


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