NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Despite Rhetoric, Women Are Succeeding in Science Fields

November 4, 2014

Women are a minority within the academic sciences field. In fields that are particularly math-intensive, such as physical sciences, computer science or engineering, women are less than 30 percent of junior faculty and 7 to 15 percent of senior faculty. As a result, write Wendy M. Williams and Stephen J. Ceci, professors at Cornell University, many commentators have begun to insist that male-dominated academia creates an inhospitable work environment for women.

But that is not the case, argue the researchers. Sifting through data on women in eight science fields at American colleges, they determined that much criticism aimed at the treatment of women within the academic fields was based on anecdotes or overgeneralizations -- the data itself, write Williams and Ceci, does not support it. According to their analysis:

  • Women in math-intensive fields are more likely to receive hiring offers than are men.
  • Women are paid basically the same as men in all eight fields and, with the exception of economics, receive tenure and promotions at the same rate.
  • Women's grants are funded, and their articles accepted, as often as men's.
  • Articles published by women are cited as often as those published by men.

What do Williams and Ceci say is the reason that women are underrepresented in math-intensive academia? They cite female preferences, something that women begin to display in early childhood. As children, girls are more interested in people and animals, while boys are more interested in machines. As they grow, girls display less of an interest in engineering and computer science and are less likely to take advanced math-intensive courses, even if they earn higher grades than boys in math and science classes.

Despite these preferences, the authors say that women who do take introductory science courses at the outset of their college educations are more likely than men to choose math-intensive science majors - a likelihood that increases if young women's professors in these classes are also female.

Source: Wendy M. Williams and Stephen J. Ceci, "Academic Science Isn\'t Sexist," New York Times, October 31, 2014. 


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