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Lack of Ability Does Not Explain Women's Opting Out of Math-Intensive Science Careers

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Reasons for women's underrepresentation in math-heavy science careers other than a lack of mathematical ability were uncovered by a study conducted by Cornell University researchers. The study identifies a preference for less math-intensive science fields or the need for the flexibility to raise children as underlying factors, according to lead author Stephen J. Ceci.

"Many women choose to have children, and the timing of childrearing coincides with the most demanding periods of their career, such as trying to get tenure or working exorbitant hours to get promoted," he says.

Women currently constitute about 50 percent of medical school classes, but the study authors note that women who enter academic medicine have less chance than men of being promoted or serving in leadership positions. "Even though institutional barriers and discrimination exist, these influences still cannot explain why women are not entering or staying in [science, technology, engineering, and math] careers," Ceci says. "The evidence did not show that removal of these barriers would equalize the sexes in these fields, especially given that women's career preferences and lifestyle choices tilt them towards other careers such as medicine and biology over mathematics, computer science, physics, and engineering." Ceci says that if math skill was solely a function of gender, then about twice as many women would be in math-intensive careers than there are now.

A number of studies indicated that although women are well represented in less math-intensive fields, they are still underrepresented in the top positions of these fields, with the researchers finding that they are either not on tenure track, drop off tenure track, or choose part-time posts until their children get older.

From American Psychological Association
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