Lack of Women in STEM Driven by Early Factors, Not Career Bias

ITHACA, N.Y. – A newly-published examination of reasons for female academics’ ongoing underrepresentation in many science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields analyzes a very long list of purported culprits, before coming to a surprising conclusion.

Cornell University’s Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams, both of the Department of Human Development, are joined by economists Donna K. Ginther of the University of Kansas and Shulamit Kahn of Boston University for a whole-issue report, which addresses numerous factors alleged to be responsible for the shortage of women in math-intensive fields of academic science.

They find that, with some notable exceptions, the playing field is now level for women and men in terms of hiring into tenure-track appointments, tenure, impact, promotion, job satisfaction, and remuneration.

The single biggest change, the authors believe, has been time itself: In contrast to women’s status several decades ago, today women and men fare comparably in the academic science pipeline.

Observed sex differences have their roots long before application to tenure-track jobs, starting in adolescence and amplified in high school – where fewer females take advanced placement courses in calculus and physics – and in college.

The authors summarize their findings by urging readers to go beyond the rallying cries of the past and focus on current challenges facing women: “We conclude by suggesting that although in the past, gender discrimination was an important cause of women’s underrepresentation in scientific academic careers, this claim has continued to be invoked after it has ceased being a valid cause of women’s underrepresentation in math-intensive fields.”

Consequently, the authors continue, “current barriers to women’s full participation in mathematically-intensive academic science fields are rooted in pre-college factors and the subsequent likelihood of majoring in these fields.”

They recommend that, “future research should focus on these barriers rather than misdirecting attention toward historical barriers that no longer account for women’s underrepresentation in academic science.”

The report, “Women in Academic Science: A Changing Landscape,” is published in the October 2014 issue of the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, published by the Association for Psychological Science (APS).

 

Cornell University has television, ISDN and dedicated Skype/Google+ Hangout studios available for media interviews.

 

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Media Note: A short video of the researchers explaining the study’s findings can be found at, http://youtu.be/BN6_sCWveO4