Why So Few Women?

First, we’ll review the common explanations given for this situation and the formal research that investigates them.

Ability Deficits, Preferences, and Cultural Biases

Much research has been done on innate ability differences, preferences, and cultural biases as reasons for the underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Ceci, Williams, and Barnett developed a framework to understand how these all interact [Ceci et al. 2009]. Next, we address the research on each factor and then work it through Ceci et al.’s more integrative framework. The picture that emerges (see Figure 13-1) gives the reader a feel for the complexity of the interactions between the contributing factors. Although there are certainly biologically rooted gender differences at work, the research suggests that there also may be some detrimental gender biases involved, which raises further questions.

Evidence for deficits in female mathematical-spatial abilities

Innate ability differences between males and females (as well as environmentally mediated differences traceable to experiences during childhood) have been explored as one possible reason for the declining number of women in computer-related fields. Substantial evidence supports the argument that women are not as capable at highly math-intensive pursuits as are men. This sex asymmetry is found at the very upper end of the ability distribution. For example, the top 1% of scores on the mathematics ...

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