A recent story in the Boston Globe addresses the persistent absence of women in fields such as science and engineering. The significant gender gap in these careers is often blamed on science and math classes in schools, apparent differences in aptitude, as well as potentially sexist companies. Although women make up nearly half of those participating in the paid labor market, they hold only a small proportion of careers requiring high-qualifications and receiving high earnings. Women make up only 20% of our country’s engineers, less than 30% of chemists, and only about 25% of those specializing in computing and mathematics.
“Over the past decade and more, scores of conferences, studies, and government hearings have been directed at understanding the gap. It has stayed in the media spotlight thanks in part to the high-profile misstep of then-Harvard president Larry Summers, whose loose comment at a Harvard conference on the topic in 2005 ultimately cost him his job.”
“Now two new studies by economists and social scientists have reached a perhaps startling conclusion: An important part of the explanation for the gender gap, they are finding, are the preferences of women themselves. When it comes to certain math- and science-related jobs, substantial numbers of women – highly qualified for the work – stay out of those careers because they would simply rather do something else.”
“One study of information-technology workers found that women’s own preferences are the single most important factor in that field’s dramatic gender imbalance. Another study followed 5,000 mathematically gifted students and found that qualified women are significantly more likely to avoid physics and the other ‘hard’ sciences in favor of work in medicine and biosciences.”