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What Has Driven Women Out of Computer Science?


In 1991, Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate student Ellen Spertus published the paper, "Why Are There So Few Female Computer Scientists?" Nearly 20 years later there are even fewer women entering the field, and the reasons why are still largely a matter of dispute. One puzzling aspect is that the explanations for the under-representation of women established in 1991 applied to all technical fields, but women have since achieved parity with men in almost every other technical area. In all science and engineering fields, the percentage of bachelor's degrees awarded to women has increased to 51 percent in 2004-2005, up from 39 percent in 1984-1985, according to the National Science Foundation. However, in computer science the percentage of women has been declining. In 2001-2002, only 28 percent of all undergraduate degrees in computer science were awarded to women, and by 2004-2005 that number dropped to 22 percent. The Computing Research Association says that women accounted for only 12 percent of undergraduate degrees in computer science and engineering in the United States and Canada in 2006-2007 at Ph.D.-granting institutions, a drop from 19 percent in 2001-2002. Many computer science departments report that women now account for less than 10 percent of new undergraduates. University of Wisconsin-Whitewater professor Jonathan Kane believes that young women felt more comfortable pursing a computer science major before the male-dominated subculture of action gaming developed. Northwestern University Center for Technology and Social Behavior's Justine Cassell says the widespread stereotype of computer science professionals as "nerds" or "geeks" accounts for the lack of interest in the field.

From The New York Times
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