Women with strong math skills are less likely than men to choose science and technology careers. Many prefer other options, writes Elaine McArdle in the Boston Globe, citing two new studies.
While women are almost half the workforce, they make up 20 percent of engineers, fewer than one-third of chemists, and only about a quarter of computer and math professionals, she writes. Women with the ability to go into technology and the “hard sciences” often choose medicine, biosciences and other fields instead.
Joshua Rosenbloom, an economist at the University of Kansas, found work-family pressures and math ability didn’t explain the low number of women in information technology jobs. Preferences did: People were likely to choose IT if they “enjoyed the explicit manipulation of tools or machines,” less likely if they “enjoyed working with others.” Men dominated in the first group, women in the second.
Socialization? Maybe, says Rosenbloom. But women are making choices.
For more than 30 years, Vanderbilt’s Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth has followed nearly 2,000 mathematically gifted adolescents, McArdle writes. Men and women were equally successful academically but chose different careers.
Math-precocious men were much more likely to go into engineering or physical sciences than women. Math-precocious women, by contrast, were more likely to go into careers in medicine, biological sciences, humanities, and social sciences. Both sexes scored high on the math SAT, and the data showed the women weren’t discouraged from certain career paths.
. . . men, relative to women, prefer to work with inorganic materials; women, in general, prefer to work with organic or living things.
The mathematically gifted women were more likely than the man to have strong verbal skills, the study found.
As a result, the career choices for math-precocious women are wider than for their male counterparts. They can become scientists, but can succeed just as well as lawyers or teachers.
Other research has found that countries that give women the greatest choices in careers show the “greatest gender split in careers.”
Japan is running out of engineers, as young people reject technical occupations for finance, medicine and the arts, reports the New York Times.
Update: Rand Simberg has more.