Low Dimensional Topology

July 25, 2008

Title IX and the gender gap

Filed under: Misc. — Jesse Johnson @ 10:02 am

The New York Times is reporting that some folks want to apply Title IX (which requires gender equality in college athletics) to hiring in academic department, particularly (you guessed it) to science and math departments.  Whether or not you believe this could ever happen, the article has an interesting discussion about the gender gap in science and math.  In particular, it suggests that the gap has more to do with personal preference than ability, since female high school students now do as well as male students on standardized math tests (this is also discussed in this article) and a female science major in college is just as likely to end up with a PhD/teaching job/tenure as a male science major.  So the gap seems to occur because female college students choose non-science majors despite having the same level of ability as the male students who are choosing science majors.

As for whether the gap in preference is due to social forces, the article hints at anecdotal evidence that some females who show ability in science are actually encouraged more strongly to pursue a science-based career than their male counterparts.  Of course, the second article I linked to hints at anecdotal evidence that female students are steered away from science careers by misguided counselors who think that women still don’t do as well at math.  Across the country, I’m sure there are plenty of both these types of situations.



  1. I’m really not trying to take sides in the argument (which boils down to a nature vs. nurture argument at heart) I think that using the word “preference” makes too large of an assumption for the data presented.

    At the moment, the data supports that gap may have more to do with the *choice* of college major than hiring practices or technical ability. But to comment on the issue of desire (as implied by “preference”) makes very deep implications as to the individual’s personality and thought processes leading up to that choice; this is something that is very hard (if not impossible) to measure empirically.

    Perhaps I am just being a semantic nitpick, but I feel like there is already so much spin on the issue of politics and the gender gap that we must be extra vigilant in keeping our interpretations of the statistics as unbiased and scientific as possible.

    Comment by J Chang — July 25, 2008 @ 10:50 am | Reply

  2. I’d just like to say the the smiley (and the resulting tone) was not intended.

    Why does message board software always insist on interpreting my syntax?

    Comment by J Chang — July 25, 2008 @ 10:53 am | Reply

  3. That’s a good point; I agree that choice is the better word.

    Comment by Jesse Johnson — July 25, 2008 @ 11:04 am | Reply

  4. […] weigh in about Title IX applying to math and science departments. The latter I heard about through Jesse Johnson, so here’s a tam-tip to […]

    Pingback by Open Gap Thread « The Unapologetic Mathematician — July 25, 2008 @ 11:33 am | Reply

  5. As someone who has run summer camps decicated to introducing ninth grade girls on Long Island, NY, to the Joy of Science in order to encourage them to enter studies and then careers in science, I hasten to warn against pulling back from the Title IX program whose tremendous support has allowed many similar endeavors to attempt to expunge the well-meaning, but wrong, counsel to young girls to only attempt home economics. Getting of the horse before the completion of the journey makes no sense whatsoever.

    Comment by Bill Watson — July 25, 2008 @ 2:27 pm | Reply

  6. On second thought; the argument most certainly does not “boil down to nature vs. nurture”; that’s an entirely separate issue from deciding whether or not to implement quotas, and I *am* taking stance on this issue. Quotas can only fix the symptoms (the statistical gender gap) temporarily and that may be somewhat helpful, but it is not a long term cure and by itself will fix nothing.

    We definitely do need to keep encouraging young girls in science through summer programs and the like, and I wouldn’t like to see these endeavors lose support.

    Comment by J Chang — July 25, 2008 @ 3:49 pm | Reply

  7. Quickly — the studies in the two articles address different time periods. The study Tierney cites looks at women who came of age when there were discrepancies between boys and girls.

    Also — the girls selected in the Tierney study were “better rounded” etc than the boys, so we shouldn’t draw too many conclusions. Except, perhaps, for the fact that, despite possibly being more talented, they only made as much money as their male counterparts.

    Finally — Tierney COMPLETELY mischaracterized the AIP study. So much so that I’m now pretty angry.

    I’ll stop before I launch into an extended rant against the patriarchy.

    Comment by feldspar — July 26, 2008 @ 2:48 am | Reply

  8. Wow, that was a completely vapid article by the New York Times. “Some people” apparently consists of one person, and it’s not even clear from the article whether that one person is asking for numerical equality. And Christina Hoff Sommers (quoted on the second page) is a professional anti-feminist. Of course she’s going to hint that there’s some secret feminist agenda at work.

    Comment by Walt — July 26, 2008 @ 11:15 pm | Reply

  9. Actually the study shows that while boys and girls have roughly the same median scores, the variance is higher for boys. Thus boys are over represented in both the highest and lowest scorers. This is exactly the point that Larry Summers made and was pilloried for.

    Comment by Jack — July 28, 2008 @ 6:54 pm | Reply

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