Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Structural Barriers Discourage Girls From Going Into Math and Science? Not According to the Data.

From today's Chronicle of Higher Education, an article by Mary Ann Mason:

"Our economy is increasingly dependent on workers skilled in advanced technology, but at each education level, from K-12 onward, structural barriers discourage women from entering into the challenging, and much higher-paid, fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.

Women are diverted from such fields at each stage of their education. In K-12, girls receive less encouragement than boys in math and science. In high-school programs, they are channeled into certain service professions, like hair styling rather than computer repair. At the undergraduate level, women are clustered in education and health programs, while men dominate engineering and the physical sciences."

MP: Sorry to "screw up a good story by bringing up data and evidence" (see comments section), but according to this 2009 SAT report from the College Board:

1. The average number of years of math study for boys and girls in high school is almost identical: 3.9 years for boys and 3.8 years for girls.

2. The average number of years of science study for girls (3.5 years) in high school is almost the same as for boys (3.6 years).

3. High school girls had exactly the same math GPA as boys of 3.14, and a slightly higher average GPA for science (3.27) than boys (3.23).

4. More girls take biology and chemistry (55%) in high school than boys (45%), i.e. 122 girls per 100 boys.

5. There are 127 girls taking high school AP/Honors science classes for every 100 boys.

6. For high school students reporting more than four years of math study, the percentages are equal by gender: 50% of boys and 50% of girls take more than four years of math.

7. Both 50% of boys and 50% of girls in high school report that calculus is the highest level of high school mathematics taken.

8. More high school girls than boys took AP Honors math courses, by a ratio of 117 girls for every 100 boys.

Bottom Line: The evidence shows that high school girls are equally prepared, if not more prepared (more AP math and science classes), than high school boys for college programs in math, science and engineering.

If "structural barriers" are in place to deter and divert girls away from math and science in K-12, why are girls taking as many or more math and science classes in high school as boys and getting the same GPAs, and why are girls taking more AP Math and Science Honors courses than boys? You could make a stronger case that boys are being diverted away from math and science since they are significantly outnumbered by girls in AP Honors math and science courses, and high school biology and chemistry classes.


At 1/13/2010 10:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why did you screw up a good story by bringing evidence to bear?

At 1/13/2010 11:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those "imaginary" structural barriers are key to justify more funding for research and studies, and more funding to counter those structural barriers that don't really exist.

It's all about using preconceived notions to advance your career and justify living off research grants while promoting a victimology.

An excellent job of "fisking" the Chronicle, Doctor Mark.

At 1/13/2010 11:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

re 1. This is actually evidence to her claim to some degree. 3.9 years for 711,368 males is just a tad bit different than 3.8 years for 818,760 females. That's 71,168 more years of math for males.

re 2. See 1, above.

re 3. The only inference I could take from this is that girls are doing better with less time. That doesn't mean that there are not barriers...

In any case, I do agree with you. I'm not really sure if by structural barriers she really meant "personal choices that lead to lower income".

At 1/13/2010 11:58 PM, Anonymous Lyle said...

If you read the whole article in the chronicle, the barriers are later in the career, graduate programs that won't allow time outs for children, the demands to work 80 hours a week to get tenure. The article notes (as other sources do that a women has to decide career or children can't have both, while men can) It boils down to who will care for the children. This is of course the reason for the pay gap, women who don't stop working to have children don't show the pay gap.
Of course if no one had children then society would fade away look at Japan.

At 1/14/2010 5:46 AM, Blogger Chuck said...

You have made some very plausible arguments to support your case and deserve credit for pointing out the inconsistency in the original argument. As pointed out, the data does not tell the whole story. The key difference is girls have the children and particularly in high school do not always want to appear smarter than the boys (peer pressure due to the chemistry of young women wanting to attract the opposite sex). Sometimes the simple answer starts with just asking your daughter for clues as to why these "structural barriers" occur. The answers are enlightening and have a factual basis in male dominated jobs.

At 1/14/2010 7:03 AM, Anonymous geoih said...

Quote from Lyle: "It boils down to who will care for the children."

You mean children aren't free? I can't decide to have children and then expect everybody else to pay for them?

At 1/14/2010 8:37 AM, Anonymous Victor V. Claar said...

I've read several articles suggesting that while women are at least as well-trained as males, and could succeed in any field, the reason that they are not choosing to major in fields such as math and engineering is simply that they are not choosing to major in fields such as math and engineering.

All students, male or female, examine career possibilities and select majors according to whether a given field seems attractive given the salaries, training required, and whether or not the work appeals to them.

Not every person out there, whether male or female, finds my profession--economist--attractive. Not everbody likes to sit all alone in an office for almost the entire day and look really, really closely at the same information. Different personalities make different choices. And for whatever reason, females have revealed that they generally do not have a preference for such work.

Telling someone they ought to like something will never make them genuinely prefer it.

At 1/14/2010 9:16 AM, Anonymous Lyle said...

Victor Claar catches the point exactly I knew a girl in college 30 years ago who decided to switch from Physics to Medicine, just recently she won an award as a top family physician in her state. Note that she could have done well in Physics, but preferred medicine.
This comes back to preferences, and the fact that a number of women may prefer to work with people rather than things.

At 1/14/2010 10:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being an engineer I can tell you from my own experience there are very few women in engineering.

I have worked at very large engineering firms with over 5,000 engineers and it's rare to see more than 3-4 women working as engineers.

At 1/14/2010 2:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just as a piece of anecdotal evidence, I just graduated from a top university and my freshman year orientation group literally laughed when I said I wanted to be a math major. The advisor told me that math probably was not a good idea for a major, even though she had never seen my academic record. I’m happy with my BS in economics and math minor, but I wish I hadn’t been so impressionable on my first day of college. It’s still not easy being a woman who likes math.

At 1/14/2010 2:26 PM, Blogger Michael said...

This interpretation of every study as though it is some sort of threat or conspiracy is so so SO tiring. I was a professor of Electrical Engineering for 8 years. I considered what we could do to attract more females in to our program not because they were victims, but because I considered all SORTS of ways of getting "better" students, and on its face, there were a lot more women waiting for us to find them than men. I was interesting in optimizing my department, my profession, and my society, and that is a GREAT use for studying things like this.

At 1/14/2010 3:07 PM, Blogger Patrick said...

I was amused by Ms. Mason's choice of words:
"women are clustered in education and health programs, while men dominate engineering and the physical sciences"

Women are simply clustered, while men dominate. At any rate, I think a very interesting survey question to ask young men and women is what their expectations for employment are by the time they are 35. By that I mean, are these women who are diverted into lower-paid professions expecting to be the primary earner in a family of four or are they anticipating part-time employment with flexibility for raising a family? I feel that this is a meaningful point. There is no argument that lower-paid professions are generally more flexible and open to part-time work schedules. If someone is hiring a civil engineer to oversee road construction you can't just work 32 hours a week and cut it. There are intrinsic attributes of jobs in the engineering and scientific fields that just don't mesh well with child-rearing. So how many girls are leaving high school with the notion that they are NOT going to have to support themselves for the rest of their life on the wages of a hair stylist?

At 1/14/2010 4:40 PM, Anonymous Junkyard_hawg19855 said...

I am an engineer with a daughter who is very good at math. She could be an engineer if she chooses to be one. When I ask her what she wants to be when she grows up, her answer is: "a mom." As many others have pointed out, your profession has a lot to do with what you want to do.


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