“Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?”

Recently there was a very interesting article in the New York Times Magazine entitled “Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?”  You can read it here.

It is kind of long, but well worth reading.  It talks about the experiences of women both past and present in the science and why even now we end up with less women in these fields.  The very short answer is that even though lots of progress has been made, there are still a lot of ongoing challenges.  Really, you should read the article!


xkcd succinctly summarizes the situation.

There are two thought provoking research studies mentioned in the article that we wanted to share.

Moss-Racusin, along with collaborators in the departments of psychology, psychiatry and the School of Management, designed a study that involved sending out identical résumés to professors of both sexes, with a cover page stating that the young applicant had recently obtained a bachelor’s degree and was now seeking a position as a lab manager. Half of the 127 participants received a résumé for a student named John; the other half received the identical résumé for Jennifer. In both cases, the applicant’s qualifications were sufficient for the job (with supportive letters of recommendation and the coauthorship of a journal article) but not overwhelmingly persuasive — the applicant’s G.P.A. was only 3.2, and he or she had withdrawn from one science class. Each faculty member was asked to rate John or Jennifer on a scale of one to seven in terms of competence, hireability, likability and the extent to which the professor might be willing to mentor the student. The professors were then asked to choose a salary range they would be willing to pay the candidate.

The results were startling. No matter the respondent’s age, sex, area of specialization or level of seniority, John was rated an average of half a point higher than Jennifer in all areas except likability, where Jennifer scored nearly half a point higher. Moreover, John was offered an average starting salary of $30,238, versus $26,508 for Jennifer.

— from the NYT Magazine article (emphasis added)


In a frequently cited 1999 study, a sample of University of Michigan students with similarly strong backgrounds and abilities in math were divided into two groups. In the first, the students were told that men perform better on math tests than women; in the second, the students were assured that despite what they might have heard, there was no difference between male and female performance. Both groups were given a math test. In the first, the men outscored the women by 20 points; in the second, the men scored only 2 points higher.

— from the NYT Magazine article.

The first study shows that even today when all things are equal people are treated differently based on their gender. The good news is that the second study shows that its  all in our heads and so we can do something about it!


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