U-M study helps define why fewer women choose math-based careers, the reason? Women have different priorities than men. This sort of data has been floating out there-I remember reading about a study where they tracked very mathematically precocious early teens and found that the boys were far more likely to enter Ph.D. programs that emphasized math. The girls on the other hand (a minority of the original sample to begin with) focused on medicine, law and other high-powered professions that would earn them more money than becoming an engineering professor.
On a related note, I was talking to a friend recently about how relationship discussions with guys and girls are so different. If I tell a male friend that he should break-up with his g/f because she’s not right for him, he will respond with brevity, “OK, sure,” or “Dude, shut-up.” On the other hand my female friends tend to ask detailed questions about why, when I formed this opinion, what my motivations might be, and so forth. In contrast, when I suggest that a friend needs a wireless card for their laptop, girls will be “OK,” or “Can’t afford it,” but a guy will start to ask in detail what the context is, the various standards, what the ramifications are in terms of the utility of lugging around a desktop replacement, will that entail the purchase of a router, etc.
My point? We’re different. As individuals. As genders. As groups. Is that so wrong? Each individual makes decisions and excessive focus on aggregates can get you lost in the forest when the trees are really what’s important. The flip-side is that we can’t ignore the aggregate if we’re looking at social policy. As a libertarian, I tend to favor less public social policy, and more private acts and civil society, but since I have to engage with people on the Right and Left that believe in the utility, the necessity, of government intervention and evaluating groups, I do speak in the language of aggregates.
Backdate from Jason S
A while ago, John Quiggin had an interesting take on the paucity of women economists which uses a math-preference related argument. GNXPers might not necessarily agree with his nurturist perspective but the rest of it re what’s required in Undergrad vs Postgrad Econ holds true:
In undergraduate economics classes, students with the ability to write a coherent and grammatical sentence are rare enough that it’s possible to do quite well without the kinds of formal reasoning skills that are most naturally acquired from doing maths.
But the further you go the less true this is. At the graduate level, lousy prose will be forgiven but inadequately formalised arguments will not (at least, not until you’ve established your credentials with enough of the formal stuff that you can get away with leaving out the details). So the forces of comparative advantage encourage bright women to leave economics and move to fields where their skills are better rewarded.