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Making Software by Greg Wilson, Andy Oram

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Chapter 13. Why Aren’t More Women in Computer Science?

Michele A. Whitecraft

Wendy M. Williams

“You cannot solve a problem from the frame of mind that created the problem in the first place.”

Albert Einstein

Consider the following statistics.

Girls receive higher grades than do boys, from kindergarten through college, including grades in mathematics. In the latest year for which we have data, girls comprised 48% of all college math majors, took 56% of all Advanced Placement exams, and took 51% of AP calculus exams [College Board 2008]. Yet, only 17% of AP computer science test-takers in that year were female [College Board 2008].

Likewise, although 57% of all 2008 undergraduate degree recipients were female, women comprised only 18% of computer science (CS) and information (IT) degree recipients [National Center for Education Statistics 2008].

Curiously, 23 years earlier (in 1985), 37% of computer science bachelor’s degrees were awarded to women [National Center for Education Statistics 2008]. Between 2001 and 2008 alone, there was a 79% decline in the number of incoming undergraduate women interested in majoring in computer science [Higher Education Research Institute 2008].

Why are so few women in computer science? Should we care? And, if we should, can anything be done to reverse these trends? Debates over these issues fall into three major categories.

Some argue that women are less likely than men to possess cognitive abilities at the extreme right tail of the distribution, which ...

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