More on the Gender Gap in STEM
I found a piece from two years ago on the notoriously far right, alt-right Public Broadcasting Service website entitled Column: Why the STEM gender gap is overblown by Denise Cummins, a research psychologist.
She begins by noting that men don’t outnumber women in all areas of STEM, and she provides this graph:
(Click to embiggen.)
She then goes on:
At the Ph.D. level, women have clearly achieved equity in the biosciences and social sciences, are nearly there (40 percent) in mathematics and the physical sciences, and are “over-represented” in psychology (78 percent). Again, the only fields in which men greatly outnumber women are computer science and engineering….
When we look at the actual workforce, we see the same pattern. Women are as likely as men to be biological scientists, medical scientists and chemists. They are much less likely than men to be computer scientists, but have achieved equity in three out of five areas, with computer science and geoscience being exceptions.
She then goes on to note that the genders have different innate preferences, on average, that affect the rate at which men and women go into different fields. She links to a paper entitled Sex differences in human neonatal social perception. Here’s the abstract to that paper:
Sexual dimorphism in sociability has been documented in humans. The present study aimed to ascertain whether the sexual dimorphism is a result of biological or socio-cultural differences between the two sexes. 102 human neonates, who by definition have not yet been influenced by social and cultural factors, were tested to see if there was a difference in looking time at a face (social object) and a mobile (physical-mechanical object). Results showed that the male infants showed a stronger interest in the physical-mechanical mobile while the female infants showed a stronger interest in the face. The results of this research clearly demonstrate that sex differences are in part biological in origin.
Not linked to in Cummins’ piece, but making a similar point is Sex Differences in Infants’ Visual Interest in Toys:
Evidence indicating that sex-linked toy preferences exist in two nonhuman primate species support the hypothesis that developmental sex differences such as those observed in children’s object preferences are shaped in part by inborn factors. If so, then preferences for sex-linked toys may emerge in children before any self-awareness of gender identity and gender–congruent behavior. In order to test this hypothesis, interest in a doll and a toy truck was measured in 30 infants ranging in age from 3 to 8 months using eye tracking technology that provides precise indicators of visual attention. Consistent with primary hypothesis, sex differences in visual interest in sex-linked toys were found, such that girls showed a visual preference (d[1.0) for the doll over the toy truck and boys compared to girls showed a greater number of visual fixations on the truck (d = .78). Our findings suggest that the conceptual categories of ‘‘masculine’’ and ‘‘feminine’’ toys are preceded by sex differences in the preferences for perceptual features associated with such objects. The existence of these innate preferences for object features coupled with well-documented social influences may explain why toy preferences are one of the earliest known manifestations of sex-linked social behavior.
Cummins also notes more evidence that gender differences in preferences are innate, linking to a paper entitled Sex differences in rhesus monkey toy preferences parallel those of children.
Anyway, this would seem to suggest that men and women, on average, have different interests and seek out different fields of study when given a choice. Perhaps the relative paucity of women in programming (brought to the fore by the James Damore Google memo) is because they do have a choice and prefer to work in other fields. That would suggest an obvious way to achieve gender parity in computer science and every other area of human endeavor: randomly assign everyone to one or another field and punish them severely if they deviate from it. I leave the consequences to the reader as an exercise.
1. The study Cummins links to in her Item 3: Newborn girls prefer to look at faces while newborn boys prefer to look at mechanical stimuli (such as mobiles) has been widely debunked and even the original research team was not able to reproduce their oiginal result. I posted this in a comment to you before with the reference to the infomation that describes the debunked study and why nobody, including the original team were able to reproduce the results (anywhere).
2. It is quite enlightening to find that Cummins shows data for Comp. Sci and Engineering where the changes in degree proportions are systematically changing over a short period of time and by significant levels, yet Cummins makes no comments or explanations or even makes any attempt by implication or directly to address potential reasons why this has occurred.
With regard to item 2) above, I’ve pointed out before that the rapid changes to proportions of females in STEM over short periods in the US work-force cannot be attributed to brain differences between males and females. This has been pointed out by most researchers as being the strongest evidence that whatever difference exist in males and female brains, hormones, etc. has nothing to do with female participation or capabilities relative to males.
Cummin’s conveniently leaves out this widely recognized information — which is btw, now believed by researchers to be strong evidence that the differences in participation which exist have far more to do with social discrimination and our role modeling educational systems which systematically reflect our male dominance society.
I read the “child” monkey study Cummins refers to as evidence of females having preferences differing from males at an early age. I read it in full. The hypothesis was that males would prefer contacting the “male toys” and females the “female toys” and that both sexes would have equal contact preferences for “neutral toys
However, the female toys were a doll and a pot. The general hypothesis is that females will have preference for animate toys (dolls, stuffed animals) and males will not have preference for those animate objects. The hypothesis is that innate biological brain differences give females an affinity for animate objects because this enhances species survival.
In the study, there was a slight difference and preference for males to prefer contact with the “male toys” and females to have preference for “female toys”.
But perhaps surprisingly the researchers also found
“However, as we found no sex differences in response to toy categories based on an animate-like (doll, dog) or inanimate-like (car, ball, book, pan) distinction, it appears that other characteristics contributed to the female object preferences we observed.”
They go on to show that prior research shows color is a sex preference:
“Color may also provide an important cue for female interest. Female rhesus monkeys have been found to show a preference for the characteristic “reddish-pink” facial coloration of infant vervets compared to yellow or green. Consistent with this female color preference, girls are also more likely than boys to prefer warmer colors (i.e., pink and red) to cooler colors (i.e., blue and green) (Minamoto, 1985 cited in Iijima, Arisaka, Minamoto, & Arai, 2001). A preference for red or reddish pink has been proposed to elicit female behaviors to infants that enhance infant survival, such as contact (Higley, Hopkins, Hirsch, Marra, & Suomi, 1987). The hypothesis that reddish pink or red may be a cue signaling opportunities for nurturance and thus eliciting female responsiveness could explain our finding of greater female contact with both the doll (with a pink face) and the pot (colored red).”
As for male preferences they say preferenes may relate to objects that can be actively used and engaged (thrown, bounce, locomote by a shove ,etc), related perhaps to male hunting and food location.. :
“Toys preferred by boys, such as the ball and police car used in this research, have been characterized as objects with an ability to be used actively (O’Brien & Huston, 1985) or objects that can be propelled in space (Benenson, Liroff, Pascal, & Cioppa, 1997). Preferences for such objects may exist because they afford greater opportunities for engaging in rough or active play. In humans, these characteristics have in turn been suggested to relate to targeting or navigating abilities (for discussion, see Alexander, in press) that might be particularly useful for males for purposes of hunting or locating food or mates (Eals & Silverman, 1994, McBurney et al., 1997, Silverman & Eals, 1992). As suggested for females in regard to objects that signal nurturance, males may therefore have evolved preferences for objects that invite movement.”
Another way of summarizing this study is to say the researchers have no idea whether these results relate to anything in the real world of humans in modern societies that portend preferences of academic and employment interests between males and females. To infer otherwise is pure conjecture without foundation.
1. I don’t remember the cite for the study you mention being debunked. I note that gender differences of all sorts are evident early. Preference for gender based toys, for instance, are evident by 9 months of age (Preference for gender based toys:
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/icd.1986/abstract) Heck, and female macaques show differences in how much they like to watch faces from males which are evident at 2-3 weeks of age (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4726418/) How the patriarchy is managing to force that to happen is beyond my comprehension. YMMV.
2. Changes over time…. Sure. We are now in an era in which women have more choice than they did a few decades ago. And like anyone else, women who are given a choice follow their preferences. And men follow theirs. If it is the patriarchy is trying to keep women in lousy jobs and keep the good job for men, it is not doing it very well. Female dominated jobs that jump to mind include elementary school teachers, nurses and housecleaners; male dominated jobs that jump to mind include garbage men (I have yet to come a single garbage woman),
roofers (again, I have yet to come a single female roofer) and lumberjacks (I do have a vague recollection of having once met a lumberjill). Why is the patriarchy reserving the jobs that are likely to kill you for men? That seems to be an odd way to oppress women.
3. See the macaque study I referenced. The simple fact is, there are differences. That doesn’t make one better or worse, merely says that on average the genders have different preferences.
Now, you say its all the male plot. Fine. But google is still around 31% female. Where are the female winners of the google code jam? Or the Facebook equivalent? Why are they not winning these competitions in equal proportion to men? Or starting Google or Facebook, for that matter?
As I noted upthread, if there are even small differences in the mean of two distributions, there will be big differences in the tails, and the tails are where the code jam winners and the founders of Facebook sit. Still at the tails, but not quite as far along, are the employees of Facebook and Google.
So what is your explanation? Is it all the patriarchy and oppression? Is that why women are under-represented in computer programming and roofing?
You do realize I hope that the entire subject of gender inherent differences in employment stems from the point in time that that the Pill become available broadly in the mid – late 1960’s and 1970’s .. which in fact contributed in a major way to females entering the workforce, and not coincidentally many chose to enter traditional male occupations and academic circles.
This is what stimulated the gender “roles” debates as males inferred that the females competing with them were not as capable, employers inferred that females were therefore also worth less in salaries, etc.
The womens liberation movement questioned these stereotypical beliefs which stimultated the academic studies.
You will I’m sure by now be aware that since those serious and academically peer reviewed studies began they have increasingly found the gender differences that exist aren’t related to inherent brain differences for job skills (excepting physical strength) and capabilities or inherent female brain preferences.
In other words the traditional stereotypes are not founded by actual evidence of brain differences being causal and that the increasing evidence is that the entire difference may be in fact just socially created.
I would ask for example why it is that females wear their hair longer than most males by a significant difference.
Why females more often chose to wear dresses / skirts and less often suits with ties and males almost never wear skirts and dresses.
Why females cover their chests (breasts) with clothing (skimpier and skimpier I might add or just coving their nipples) while males pay no attention to their chest exposures in physical activities or whenever going shirtless is more comfortable.
Why are a very large plurality of males in the US and in many other societies circumcised while in the US and European societies females don’t undergo similar cutting?
All of these gender differences are all purely societally induced mores and morays. Why should gender differences in employment occupations and capabilities that have been traditionally dominated by males be any different? .
There are a couple of universals that have existed since before humans even evolved: Male animals have organs designed to introduce sperm cells into Females, Female animals gestate and give birth, and Females are on average smaller in stature and weight… i.e. anatomically differentiated.
Where the anatomical and birthing differences are relevant to survival it seems there’s been a corresponding gender based division of labor. But where these anatomical and birthing difference are irrelevant then it would seem that divisions of labor along anatomical and birthing distinction lines would be irrelevant.
The only relevance may in fact be that societies induce relevance’s to divisions of traditional labor where birthing and strength/stature are relevant and then retain them by traditional systems handed down from one generation to the next by mimicking, but where the gender differences are irrelevant and need not exist in fact.
It’s a lot like racism.
Sure, there are differences in anatomy and brain structure and hormones and genes that don’t affect people’s preferences for what they do in life. And there are differences that are cultural driven. (And I am willing to pretend for the sake of this response that culture springs into existence fully formed, and is unrelated to the anatomy and brain structure and hormones and genes of those who create and live in (and therefore sustain) the culture.)
OK. Now we are still left with the question that Fermi asked in another context: where the hell are they? If 20% of programmers are women, where are the 20% who are google code jam winners? Or at least 10%? Bear in mind – the people who do win these competitions weren’t born when the pill came out. Some may be grandchildren of women who were around when the pill came out.
Why did google have to create a separate code jam competition? (That makes it like chess, and poker, which also have no real physical reasons for the same gender distinction. I’m assuming you don’t really believe that the macho image of chess players is what’s keeping women from competing with Magnus Carlsen.)
If men have had more options in forever, why are so few men choosing to be third grade teachers, where the work environment (indoors, shorter hours) is more pleasant than comparable paid positions.
How many decades after the pill do you think it will take for the share of men and women who decide they’re going to be chess players to be equal, or the likelihood that the world champion in chess will be of either gender will be 50-50? If we aren’t close to gender parity in 500 years,