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The Myth of the Mathematics Gender Gap

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the where-we-haven't-looked-yet dept.

Math 588

Coryoth writes "The widely held belief that there is disparity in the innate mathematical abilities of men and women has been steadily whittled down in recent years. The gender gap in basic mathematics skills closed some time ago, and recently the gap in high school mathematics has closed up as well, with as many girls as boys now taking high school calculus. Newsweek reports on a new study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that begins to lay to rest the remaining argument that it is at the highest levels of mathematics that the innate differences show. Certainly men dominate current academia, with 70% of mathematics Ph.D.s going to men; however that figure is down from 95% in the 1950s. Indeed, while there remain gaps in achievement between the genders, the study shows that not only are these gaps closing, but the size of the gap varies over differing cultures and correlates with the general degree of gender inequality in the culture (as defined by World Economic Forum measures). In all, this amounts to strong evidence that the differences in outcomes in mathematics between the genders is driven by sociocultural factors rather than innate differences in ability."

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Ok I can't resist (5, Funny)

Critical Facilities (850111) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186411)

Certainly men dominate current academia, with 70% of mathematics Ph.D.s going to men; however that figure is down from 95% in the 1950s. Indeed, while there remain gaps in achievement between the genders, the study shows that not only are these gaps closing, but the size of the gap varies over differing cultures and correlates with the general degree of gender inequality in the culture (as defined by World Economic Forum measures).

Of course, the study was done by a team of female mathematicians/statisticians, so we really can't trust the results.

I'm kidding, don't flame me.

I can't resist either. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28186469)

Since my boyfriend isn't at home right now can you stick my iPhone and your dick up my butt?

Re:Ok I can't resist (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28186555)

Of course, after all these years of being taught that 5 inches is really 8, women no longer have any standing in anything math related. It's simply not their fault.

Re:Ok I can't resist (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28187011)

That's why I tell women that I have a small penis and then enjoy their pleasant surprise after my trousers drop.

If a woman scoffs walks away after I tell her I have a small one, then she's a niggerlovin' size queen and would be best left to a life of disgusting obese breeding anyway.

Re:Ok I can't resist (2, Insightful)

TeknoHog (164938) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186713)

But.. but.. correlation is not causation!!! It's impossible to tell if the gender of these researchers had any causal effect.

Re:Ok I can't resist (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28186779)

Right,

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Of course (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28186413)

...genders are equal. A real interesting comparison would be percentag of black mathematicians. I mean, how many black mathematicians are there? Probably like two, and they're half white. Just sayin'.

Re:Of course (-1, Flamebait)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186563)

Thank you for showing the reality of the attitudes held by bigots on this subject. Most of them try to disguise their sexism, racism, etc. You come right out with yours, and reveal the thinking which underlies all such claims.

...or maybe (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28186429)

we've just beaten men down so much that we've lowered the bar on everything?

Re:...or maybe (2, Insightful)

snowraver1 (1052510) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186489)

Really, I thought it was that Science is so watered down now, that it no longer really interests anyone...

Science should be exciting, and excitement attracts young men.

Re:...or maybe (4, Insightful)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 5 years ago | (#28187111)

Science should be exciting, and excitement attracts young men.

Nope, ease and money attracts young men in American culture now. Math is neither easy nor high-paying. So young men go into things like sports and multi-level marketing instead.

Re:...or maybe (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28187127)

excitement attracts young men.

Whereas women revel in repetition and boredom?

Give me a break. Some people get excited about science. Most do not. This is true of men and women.

And while we're on the subject... (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28186437)

How about showcasing the widening gender gap in BA/BS degrees in Western culture? Women are earning more degrees almost across the board, and yet there is almost no measures being taken to call attention to that disparity.

Re:And while we're on the subject... (4, Interesting)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186583)

How about showcasing the widening gender gap in BA/BS degrees in Western culture? Women are earning more degrees almost across the board, and yet there is almost no measures being taken to call attention to that disparity.

There are more moderately-high paying jobs not requiring a BA/BS degree that men traditionally hold, rather than women. Building trades, for instance.

And since women tend to work less than men (as a whole, due to traditional family roles), some of them have the luxury of more time for education.

FWIW, since this is a relatively recent development, I think it's fine... it'll help undo centuries/millenia of male domination in Western culture.

Re:And while we're on the subject... (2, Insightful)

bertoelcon (1557907) | more than 5 years ago | (#28187087)

I think it's fine... it'll help undo centuries/millenia of male domination in Western culture.

But it will most likely take at least a century, probably more, to breakdown completely, look at racism it has taken a long time to break as far as it has. Sexism will take no less time and will most likely take more because it is deeper ingrained

Re:And while we're on the subject... (5, Insightful)

spinkham (56603) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186633)

Sorry, we only study gender and race when it fits a pattern of traditional bias. Biases against the traditional more powerful groups are welcomed and encouraged.

Re:And while we're on the subject... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28186781)

It's all intentional.

Schools have been geared toward girls.
Everything from the environment, discipline, actual instruction, and expected performance has been bastardized to make females perform better than males, without any actual focus on understanding the material.

CS (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28186475)

How about we close that gap in CS now.

Im so lonely :(

Re:CS (1)

sorak (246725) | more than 5 years ago | (#28187201)

How about we close that gap in CS now.

Im so lonely :(

So you're just like us guys.

The real question... (5, Insightful)

delta419 (1227406) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186479)

...as many girls as boys now taking high school calculus

My problem is the number of **attractive** girls taking my class. There are girls, and then there are girls.

Re:The real question... (1)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186535)

...as many girls as boys now taking high school calculus

My problem is the number of **attractive** girls taking my class. There are girls, and then there are girls.

Agreed, I would also like to point out that there's a big difference between a "whole lot of girls" and a "whole lot of girl."

Re:The real question... (5, Funny)

internerdj (1319281) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186539)

Here is hoping you are a student and not a teacher.

Re:The real question... (1)

delta419 (1227406) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186637)

Good call- I'm a student.

Re:The real question... (4, Insightful)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186807)

My problem is the number of **attractive** girls taking my class. There are girls, and then there are girls.

I'll bet the girls in your class are saying the same thing about the guys. No, I'm not trying to be a smart ass: the fact is that people interested in higher math tend to be geeky because they're more interested in math than say, what Gina wore to the party last night.

And I say this as a fellow geek.

Re:The real question... (4, Insightful)

Rycross (836649) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186973)

As the nerd women I know say, "The odds are good, but the goods are odd."

Bing (5, Funny)

goldaryn (834427) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186481)

The only correlation between math and sex that I can see: I don't get either of them

Another one bites the dust (3, Insightful)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186483)

In every field which was once exclusively male, but is now no longer, it's been claimed first, that no woman can perform alongside men; second, when the first claim is disproven, that hardly any woman can; and third, when the second claim is disproven, that maybe a few women can, but a majority lack the ability or the inclination. And every single time, as the residual sexism fades, the third claim is shown to be false as well. Business, politics, medicine: it's a familiar pattern. Now math is next on the list.

In short, if there's a difference, it's not the sex, it's the sexism. Anyone who can't acknowledge this is a bigot and a twit.

Men and women are different, yadda yadda. Yes, they are, and they may be even be different in ways that affect performance at certain jobs. But every time the issue is put to the test, we see that those differences are not nearly as signficant as the bigots desperately believe. The difference in means between the sexes, or any other groups into which people can conveniently be divided, is far smaller than the variances between individuals.

Re:Another one bites the dust (2, Insightful)

Rycross (836649) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186571)

Well, I'd argue that its pretty well established that women can't compete in raw strength to the same level as men, so in many athletic fields they can't. But for anything not involving muscle mass, the evidence (overwhelmingly) indicates that aptitude discrepancies between genders is a problem of social expectations.

Re:Another one bites the dust (1)

thedonger (1317951) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186613)

It is likely that given enough time that would even out, too, though I wouldn't want to be looking for sex in that future.

Re:Another one bites the dust (3, Insightful)

harryandthehenderson (1559721) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186625)

Well, I'd argue that its pretty well established that women can't compete in raw strength to the same level as men, so in many athletic fields they can't.

I'd say that's inaccurate, too. It would be more accurate to say that the top end of all women can't reach the level of raw strength as that of the top end of all men. There are many women who are stronger and faster than a number of men.

Re:Another one bites the dust (2, Interesting)

Rycross (836649) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186649)

True, although I just realized that I don't actually know whether there's a scientific basis for that thought. I recall reading that men build muscle mass more easily than women, but I have no idea if that has been empirically tested.

Re:Another one bites the dust (2, Informative)

MrMr (219533) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186943)

Testosterone helps build muscle mass. Men have higher natural testosterone levels
Men and women will get equal physical strength when equal amounts of steroids (anabolic or androgen) circulate in the blood stream.

Re:Another one bites the dust (1)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | more than 5 years ago | (#28187209)

It would be more fair to compare top men to top women. Really, comparing an average woman to a fat man is just a bit silly because fat men wouldn't perform in sport on a paid competitive level (bowling is not a sport). Plus it's like saying you can run faster than Stephen Hawking. You don't really use that as a selling point.

Re:Another one bites the dust (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28186647)

Not this again.
Look, not everyone is sexist and ignorant, it's just that those who aren't don't go around yelling about it; so it seems that way. Sure there are a few assholes who somewhere got the idea that because most females don't get X degree means their not good at X degree, but most reasonably people understand that there's a difference from being good at something and deciding to to get a degree in it.

The people who try to explain to you that woman and men think differently are not the majority.

Another pissing contest . . . ? (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186705)

In every field which was once exclusively male, but is now no longer, it's been claimed first, that no woman can perform alongside men; second, when the first claim is disproven, that hardly any woman can; and third, when the second claim is disproven, that maybe a few women can, but a majority lack the ability or the inclination.

. . . so which one applies to pissing contests?

Re:Another one bites the dust (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28186707)

someone's got to wash the dishes and burp the baby

Re:Another one bites the dust (1)

lavacano201014 (999580) | more than 5 years ago | (#28187149)

Shouldn't the older sibling do that?

Re:Another one bites the dust (1)

jimbolauski (882977) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186723)

What about peeing contests, driving (if only cars didn't have mirrors), and sports.

Re:Another one bites the dust (1)

TrashGod (752833) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186733)

"Men and women are different, yadda yadda."

Did you just yada-yada [wikipedia.org] sexual dimorphism [wikipedia.org] ?

Re:Another one bites the dust (5, Interesting)

Lord Ender (156273) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186753)

These days, women are intentionally given advantages over men, so it is NOT fair to say that women have proven equality with men.

For example, my school had all sorts of scholarships available only to women (not men). It had free math tutoring for women (not men). It had many programs available only to women to help them academically and financially.

If women want to display equality, they need to compete on equal ground.

Re:Another one bites the dust (0)

Bemopolis (698691) | more than 5 years ago | (#28187207)

If women want to display equality, they need to compete on equal ground.

And if women are expected to compete without advantages, the ground on which they compete has to be equal. Which means an academic environment absent of sexism. And a financial environment with equal pay for equal work, and gender-neutral access to that work. It has been shown repeatedly in the history of America that the easiest (and often only) method for equalizing the ground is to elevate a significant population of qualified females into a heavily male-dominated field.

This also produces whining, but it seems a small cost at the end of the day.

Re:Another one bites the dust (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28187221)

I agree,

At my University, there were a bunch of scholarships/bursaries for Engineering. As a male you needed an 85 average, as a female you only needed a 70, which was pretty much required to stay in Engineering at all.

I'm all for allowing women to study in whatever field they want, but they should have to meet the same requirements as the rest of us for these sorts of things. If you are exceptional in your knowledge area you get a bonus. If you're a women and you're mediocre at it you still get the bonus.

Re:Another one bites the dust (2, Insightful)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 5 years ago | (#28187231)

If women want to display equality, they need to compete on equal ground.

By which you mean; accept the multitude of barriers and prejudices I and others put against them.

Re:Another one bites the dust (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28187237)

Near where I live a gym was sued because it had seperate weight rooms for men and woman. Now they have to share yet there is a healthclub chain that explicitly caters to woman and no one says a peep. Gotta love reverse sexism!

Re:Another one bites the dust (1)

Nevyn (5505) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186799)

when the second claim is disproven, that maybe a few women can, but a majority lack the ability or the inclination. And every single time, as the residual sexism fades, the third claim is shown to be false as well. Business, politics, medicine: it's a familiar pattern. Now math is next on the list.

While I personally agree with your overall point, that the gender divide is mostly a social problem, I don't think the above is proven yet.

We aren't anywhere close to 50% women in politics (and when Hilary was running, her gender seemed to be a much bigger issue for "was she qualified" than being non-white was for Obama).

Women are still generally paid less in business, don't rise as high and I don't see a lot of Women doctors (esp. if you discount paediatrics and OBGYNs).

Also IMO there seem to still be a huge number of women who think having a child is a huge achievement. So in general I think you are being a bit optimistic about the current state of the world :).

Re:Another one bites the dust (1)

lgw (121541) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186941)

Also IMO there seem to still be a huge number of women who think having a child is a huge achievement. So in general I think you are being a bit optimistic about the current state of the world

Having children is a pretty damned important accomplishment for the future of our species. In most modern cultures, having two or fewer children per woman is the norm. Without some women having a third child, humans have no future.

Also, why should equal representation of the sexes in all fields even be a goal? Life is far more interesting with cultural differences between men and women, and differences in interests (genetic or cultural) should reflect in differences in populations in some fields.

Re:Another one bites the dust (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28187035)

Women are still generally paid less in business, don't rise as high...

I am tired of this crap. No one has handed me any promotions, and I have worked my ass off for the money I have made. I doubled my annual salary in seven years on my current job, and my dick had nothing to with it.

Re:Another one bites the dust (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28186877)

your error is that you automatically jump to bigotry. maybe women dont like math as much? why is it that every single time someone's pet cross section of society is underrepresented somewhere, white straight male bigotry is the assumed cause? that in it self smells of bigotry.

Re:Another one bites the dust (1)

lavacano201014 (999580) | more than 5 years ago | (#28187195)

In a perfect world, there's no such thing as bigotry. Unfortunately, we can't have a perfect world, because human nature tends to screw that up.

Re:Another one bites the dust (5, Insightful)

CorporateSuit (1319461) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186893)

Men and women are different, yadda yadda. Yes, they are, and they may be even be different in ways that affect performance at certain jobs. But every time the issue is put to the test, we see that those differences are not nearly as signficant as the bigots desperately believe. The difference in means between the sexes, or any other groups into which people can conveniently be divided, is far smaller than the variances between individuals.

Chemically, testosterone and estrogen have different, powerful effects on the brain and body. Be careful not to call people "bigots" because they celebrate this diversity and seek out the advantages it contains, or you must call yourself a bigot for your intolerance toward anyone who thinks that any notable differences are an evil that needs to be squashed. Yes, with extra effort, one sex can almost always measurably outperform the opposite sex where the opposite sex is more fitted, biologically, to a purpose -- but that doesn't reinforce your point; it contradicts it. If a woman and a man can perform equally at math, but the woman has to study n% longer, then the man is inherently better at math. That's what inherency means. It's not politically correct, but it's nature... however, I vehemently agree that the product of nurture and identity should always have the /choice/ to agree with nature or to struggle to see if it can obtain something better. If a woman chooses to study n% longer than the man to perform equally at math, her identity shows that she would be the better mathematician -- because she's more willing to put forth the necessary effort-- but don't hate or belittle people because they accept what nature has given us as a gift, rather than viewing it as a curse.

Re:Another one bites the dust (1)

Narpak (961733) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186913)

The difference in means between the sexes, or any other groups into which people can conveniently be divided, is far smaller than the variances between individuals.

I agree. While genetic differences, between sexes and ethnic groups, could probably affect the body and physical development of the individual. I would argue that for the significant majority the main factors would be intellectual stimulation during the formative years, complimented by study, practice and dedication when it comes to their performance in all fields; including math.

Re:Another one bites the dust (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186969)

In every field which was once exclusively male, but is now no longer, it's been claimed first, that no woman can perform alongside men; second, when the first claim is disproven, that hardly any woman can; and third, when the second claim is disproven, that maybe a few women can, but a majority lack the ability or the inclination. And every single time, as the residual sexism fades, the third claim is shown to be false as well.

Incorrect. As the study in TFA shows, there's no inherent different between men and women WRT math ability, but there most certainly is a different in inclination, or interest. The reason 70% of math degrees go to men is simple: women aren't as interested in it. The reasons for that are cultural of course. Women tend to be more interested in majors such as music and theater than men. That's why there's very few women in engineering. It's just not something that interests them that much. In other cultures, it's different; there's lots of Indian women in engineering here in the US, for instance. Of course, this observation can be extended beyond sexes: Americans of both sexes tend to not be very interested in engineering as a profession, so most engineering students these days are foreigners. That's because Americans are generally interested in things that don't involve much math or science, and are more interested in things like real estate and sports.

There's nothing bigoted about observing that different groups of people are interested in different things.

It's not that women are getting smarter. (3, Interesting)

DigitalReverend (901909) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186971)

I think men are just getting less intelligent and they think differently than they used to. You see, in the 200+ year history of our country, we've sent our strongest, mentally stable and most intelligent men to die in wars and left the weaker and less intelligent and mentally unstable at home to breed. Through unnatural selection, we've thinned our own gene pool. The male gender has become more effeminate and now it seems they think like women instead of men. It's not the women who are getting smarter, it is us men are are getting dumber.

Re:Another one bites the dust (2, Insightful)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#28187005)

Men and women do think differently, and that has been all but exhaustively proven scientifically [livescience.com] . However, as a rule, men and women do equally well on broad measures of intelligence. And while men and women differ as to what areas they tend to do well in, either can do mathematics equally well. It's just that men and women will generally take (and may even require) different approaches to learning. It's not a bad thing, it's a good thing.

Re:Another one bites the dust (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28187021)

Well written flamebait ma'am.

In other news: women are not stupid. Now move along.

Re:Another one bites the dust (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28187043)

In short, if there's a difference, it's not the sex, it's the sexism. Anyone who can't acknowledge this is a bigot and a twit.

Impressive argument, there. I am also outraged at the sexism at the birthing centers. Would you believe they wouldn't give me a bed, just because of my gender!

The fact is that mean intelligence is close enough between men and women that the difference, if any exists, hardly matters. However, men vary more among each other in ability, so there are more highly capable men and more highly incapable men than women, and this is significant for fields such as mathematics, where you have to be at the tail of the distribution to even be able to enter the field. This also means that the most brain-dead and dangerous jobs are mostly occupied by men, and that there are more highly unintelligent men compared to women.

Of course, the actual ratio of men to women in any field is not just a question of base ability in the population. If many more men are interested in mathematics at a high level than women, but for political reasons, we hire the same amount of women as men, then of course the women are going to be much less capable than the men, simply because they are chosen from a much smaller group. Even if as many men as women were in a position to contribute to mathematics, if more of the men were actually interested, there would be more men in the field.

To just conclude that any difference between men and women must be due to discrimination is much like assuming God did whatever you don't otherwise know how to explain. It's not that there couldn't possibly be a God which created everything, it's that you actually DO have to argue that this is the case using valid arguments.

Re:Another one bites the dust (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28187075)

I don't disagree that the gap is shrinking but it's ignorant to label people bigots because they believe there may be differences between genders and even races.

What we mustn't do, is assume there are differences without proof, but similarly we mustn't hinder people who do try to do research and prove these differences, it seems naive to think that the only differences between sexes and races are what we can judge from the outside.

The biggest issue with research into this kind of thing is that it is in itself dangerous and has implications in paving the way for people to discriminate based on those differences.

"In short, if there's a difference, it's not the sex, it's the sexism. Anyone who can't acknowledge this is a bigot and a twit."

Can you prove it? If not, then don't make such a claim, else you're as ignorant as someone who discriminates based upon the assumption that there is. Whilst I'm in no way suggesting that the gap does exist, I can certainly see plenty of room for that to be the case in light of the article's discussion, it mentions for example that more females are taking calculus closing the gap, but this doesn't necessarily mean that females are equally as good at calculus, it just means they're now equally as interested in it. Because of inherent differences between sexes and the way sexes are treated there is no way to be certain that the results those students taking it get are a good judge either. Now again, I'm not saying females are worse at calculus in general but I am saying the possibility exists for that to be true and that's key here.

We shouldn't be insulting, defaming or labelling people based on what they think when there is certainly room for what they think to be true because that just forces people to shy away from properly researching the subject and it is not your place or any other individual's place to pressure someone away from research or thought about an idea just because you don't like that idea, it is society as a whole that decides the moral standards that define whether we do or don't want to know about differences between sexes and races.

It is a very difficult area to discuss already because it certainly does of course touch raw nerves, but it's an area that's also full of double standards. I have for example encountered women who would gladly tell me about how research has proven women are better at multi-tasking whilst simultaneously being entirely against the idea they may be weaker in other areas. Similarly at Leeds University a professor Dr Frank Ellis was suspended after student protests about research he had done suggesting that black people were generally less intelligent than white people, but who wants to bet that some of those protesting were black males who would be happy with the suggestion that black men generally have larger genitalia for example? The real response to such research should be to review it and perform a study to try and disprove the research, but alas due to the danger of research in such an area to an individual and his employer is so great that we wont know any time soon.

We've got to realise that we certainly are different in some ways, may or may not be in others, but should probably find out creating taboos through fear of merely hurting someone's feelings is a good way to hold the human race back, particularly if that person can't learn to be proud that they are who they are rather than take it as an insult. Discrimination shouldn't occur based on that though, because there's always the chance of being above what is defined as the average for your specific race/gender. More importantly perhaos, hard work will almost certainly be enough to negate any minor genetic difference anyway.

Re:Another one bites the dust (1)

BaronHethorSamedi (970820) | more than 5 years ago | (#28187097)

In short, if there's a difference, it's not the sex, it's the sexism. Anyone who can't acknowledge this is a bigot and a twit.

BIGOT, n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.
--Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

I mean, really. You state that the the difference is not in the sex itself, but in the sexism, and then acknowledge differences between the sexes that possibly affect job performance.

How about this proposition: men, in the aggregate, are more physically and mentally predisposed than women to certain activities, and vice versa.

The bolded language is the key here. It suggests that men and women (as you acknowledge) are different. This is not the same as saying that "women can't do math" or "men don't make good school teachers." It's possible (and very sensible) to acknowledge biological and behavioral differences in a way that does not set up barriers to employment or other life activities to persons of either sex wishing to engage in them.

Re:Another one bites the dust (4, Informative)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | more than 5 years ago | (#28187157)

In short, if there's a difference, it's not the sex, it's the sexism. Anyone who can't acknowledge this is a bigot and a twit.

That comment is just as ignorant as anything a bigot would say.

I'd say it's not boys stopping girls from taking maths in school and it's not boys stopping girls from taking programming. In fact, from my experience in school, and what I've seen, most school aged boys would love to have a girl that was into something that they found cool.

Sure sexism plays a part in some instances but like everything else it's not black and white. A lot of girls don't do math because that's not where the cool boys are. Their social standing would take a hit if they were caught carrying a calculator and hanging around the nerds and yes believe it or not, a girl's self image means a lot. Hence the market for make-up, push-up bras, high-heel shoes, fad diets and anything else that will make them feel like they're something they're not.

And no those things aren't forced upon girls either. Which is why girls with a lot of image issues (and especially food issues) go through a lot of boyfriends because the guy gets fed up listing to them talk about what they're not going to eat today.

It's not the case with all woman, because again, not everything is black and white, but a lot of girls compete amongst each other to attract boys and math will only attract nerds in their eyes.

So let's not be ignorant and just blame everything on men being some sort of evil being because it's simply not true.

Taking vs Excelling (5, Interesting)

Tanktalus (794810) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186503)

I don't really care whether there is a gap or not, but I am a stickler for accuracy. Taking the course is not the same thing as passing or excelling. It's an important metric, but not the only one. Perhaps we have a "traditionally disadvantaged" group being pushed, in the name of equality, into an area they dislike because it doesn't come natural, and they're barely passing. That's not success - that's a failure because these people probably would be more successful in life playing to their strengths rather than weaknesses.

I'm not saying that's the case. But it's a plausible explanation for the results in TFS, while not dismissing the myth, I'd say they have to do more work and study to proclaim this myth busted.

Re:Taking vs Excelling (3, Insightful)

harryandthehenderson (1559721) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186573)

I'm pretty sure if a woman is being awarded a Ph.D in math she is definitely doing more than barely passing.

Re:Taking vs Excelling (2, Insightful)

Tanktalus (794810) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186949)

Congratulations. The plural of anecdote is not data.

I have a degree in Electrical Engineering. I hated it. I'm not using it in my career (other than on my resume to say "I have a Bachelor's Degree.") I did more than barely pass (well, most of my courses - the arts electives weren't so hot). I'm not data, either.

In short, one article neither proves nor disproves. I'm neither convinced the conclusion is true nor false. And, like many episodes of the MythBusters (entertaining though the explosions are), I remain skeptical of the "busted" tag based on the evidence presented. The evidence is lacking. Mind you, the assertion in the reverse has no (scientific) evidence, either, which is why I remain skeptical in that direction as well.

Re:Taking vs Excelling (4, Insightful)

Dynedain (141758) | more than 5 years ago | (#28187037)

Not necessarily. At the architecture school I attended, foreign students routinely received credentials and adjusted grades for sub-par work. Usually because the culture at the school was to attribute the deficiencies to the "language barrier" instead of individual aptitude or skill. I also routinely saw professors advancing and showing bias towards students because of gender (in both directions).

It's the same thing as people complaining the IE thread earlier today. If your website statistics show no Opera users, it's not necessarily because there are no Opera users, but could be because your site doesn't work for Opera users.

Statistics regarding gender/ethnic/any type of diversity within a field do not in and of themselves negate myths or pre-conceptions regarding gender/ethnic/any type of diversity and ability in that field. This was the point the grandparent was making. Essentially correlation != causation, but with a more directed focus than the generalized meme.

Take for example basketball and American football, sports dominated by African-American players. Are African-Americans genetically more predisposed to athletic ability than whites, latinos, asians, or polynesians? Or is the prevailing African-American socio-economic culture of poverty and poor education provide primarily athletic means of escape and is geared more towards rewarding that route? Arguments can be made in both directions, and certainly both factors play a role, but simply looking at the number of players in those sports does not prove or disprove any speculations or myths regarding innate tendencies, nor does it prove or disprove the existence of bias or bigotry.

Re:Taking vs Excelling (1)

harryandthehenderson (1559721) | more than 5 years ago | (#28187189)

Not necessarily.

Unless it's being awarded from a diploma mill like Patriot University, then yes they are more than barely passing. No accredited university worth anything is going to hand out Ph.Ds to people who don't deserve them.

Re:Taking vs Excelling (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28187145)

There is such a thing as barely passing for a Ph.D. - it's just at a higher level than barely passing for a bachelor's degree or a master's degree. In any case math departments all over the world are actively trying to recruit women, so women don't need as much ability to get a career in math. This is unfortunate, since it puts an initial presumption of lesser competence onto even the women who are fully competent to the mens' level.

Re:Taking vs Excelling (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28186645)

Oh yeah. I mean, I have female friends, and they're not good at math. So it's not sexist when I say that I think that an indeterminate number of "more studies" need done.

Re:Taking vs Excelling (4, Interesting)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186671)

Try reading TFA instead of just TFS. It goes into a reasonable amount of detail, and should help dispel some of your doubts. (Unless, of course, you're already determined to reach the opposite conclusion, in which case there's no reason you should confuse your pretty little head with facts.) Girls perform at least as well mathematically as boys in a number of countries, including those where there's a lot less worry about "traditionally disadvantaged" groups than there is here in the US. You'll have a hell of a time pinning this on political correctness in Korea ...

Re:Taking vs Excelling (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28187107)

In all fairness Daniel, you appear to be quite determined beforehand to find that people who disagree in this thread are bigots.

Keep in mind, too, that there is nothing inherently wrong with having gender roles, even roles that are quite impressed upon people.

Re:Taking vs Excelling (2, Insightful)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186791)

That's maybe true when you're talking about high school math programs, but TFA also mentions the gaps closing in under and post graduate work as well. The guidance counselor might convince you to take calc your senior year, but I don't think anyone is going to convince you to make a career out of a subject you hate.

Obligatory XKCD (5, Funny)

spinkham (56603) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186575)

Obligatory XKCD:
http://xkcd.com/385/ [xkcd.com]

Honestly (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28186577)

Does it really matter? There are countless abilities that differ between the two genders...
and between left and right handed people
and those with black or red hair
and those with blue eyes
or darker skin...
The list goes on, what of it?

But Barbie said... (1)

querist (97166) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186585)

Barbie said that "Math class is tough!" (often misquoted as "math is hard.")

http://www.nytimes.com/1992/10/21/business/company-news-mattel-says-it-erred-teen-talk-barbie-turns-silent-on-math.html [nytimes.com]

It's funny how these inaccurate stereotypes find their way into the stranges places.

Social or Biological? (4, Insightful)

Manip (656104) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186595)

We have a statistic, 70% of PhDs in Mathematics go to men and up to 30% go to women.

But does this tell us anything about the abilities of both men and women to compete at that level? It might, but it also could be social. Boys are from a very young age encouraged in Maths, Engineering, and Sciences while a lot of girls are encouraged to embrace their social and emotional sides.

If you look at a Psychology, Social Science, or English they have an extremely disproportional amount of women in them. Just as Maths, and Science often has a disproportionate amount of men.

PS - Too few women in Maths/Engineering is "broken." Too few men in Social Science/Child Care/Psychology is "fine."

Re:Social or Biological? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28186697)

That kind of thinking is always warped: There are too many black in prison, but not too many in the NBA. Hmmm.....

Re:Social or Biological? (4, Insightful)

istefany (1270868) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186845)

Too few women in Maths/Engineering is "broken." Too few men in Social Science/Child Care/Psychology is "fine."

That's not true. Specifically, I know that there has been a big push to get more men involved in education. The motivation for this is that young boys (and even teenage boys) who are behaviorally disruptive in class respond very well to a male teacher. And that's a win for everyone. Unfortunately, teachers are not well-payed, so it's hard to get people into the field, period, let alone men.

Also, re:

If you look at a Psychology, Social Science, or English they have an extremely disproportional amount of women in them.

Try taking a look at MA/MS/PhD enrollment in those fields. Much closer to 50/50. No one really cares about undergraduate degrees.

Re:Social or Biological? (1)

iwein (561027) | more than 5 years ago | (#28187135)

Unfortunately, teachers are not well-payed, so it's hard to get people into the field, period, let alone men.

... Since men are better at math (and generally smarter), they're less likely thwarted by the job interviewers at schools to take the crappy teaching job for ideological reasons. There, fixed that for you.

Re:Social or Biological? (1)

DarthVain (724186) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186907)

Not to mention the "little" distinction of women getting pregnant. Which is something that men simply cannot do.

Not to put it bluntly but numbers may be down because some women choose (or oops) to have children early in life. Attending later on is more difficult and thus numbers would be down.

Many of these would not attend university. Some do. Some guys don't attend due to the responsibility also. Some don't

Statistically if that is what we are speaking, I would bet this effects negatively women than men (and by that I just mean that less actually may go because of that determining factor). Yes some single mothers also go. The difficulty curve just goes up and likely the numbers go down again.

In any event this natural biological function will account for some statistical variation, and likely that variation will tend to favor males.

You can make the same arguments for simple statistical arguments for workplace equality.

That is not to say that is the only factor, only that is a significant one that is ignored usually in the name of equality.

Granted I didn't RTFA, so I have no idea how they came up with their numbers nor how they did their statistics. If it was based on a ratio or per/capita it wouldn't be too bad a description other than that is all it is. Trend is simply over time.

Re:Social or Biological? (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 5 years ago | (#28187051)

But does this tell us anything about the abilities of both men and women to compete at that level? It might, but it also could be social. Boys are from a very young age encouraged in Maths, Engineering, and Sciences while a lot of girls are encouraged to embrace their social and emotional sides.

Wrong, at least for the US.

Here in the USA, boys aren't encouraged in math, engineering, or especially science. Instead, they're encouraged to go into sports or singing (American Idol). Boys who don't do well in these are encouraged to become real estate agents or mortgage brokers.

Maybe things are different for you in the UK (as you called it "maths"), but kids, boy or girl, are NOT encouraged to go into science, math, or engineering fields here.

bearing on what's politically correct (1)

2ms (232331) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186663)

So does this mean that it's hereby not only politically correct to say that females have better verbal abilities than males, but now also higher overall aptitude too?

Just a thought (4, Insightful)

Xeth (614132) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186669)

(not meant to necessarily have any correlation with reality)

People seem to assume that what is happening is that previously, cultural norms dictated gender inequality when there was no biological basis, and now that those norms have changed, biological equality is restored. Couldn't it be the other way around? I.e. that there is a biological inequality, that is being altered by cultural factors to produce equality?

Re:Just a thought (2, Insightful)

bendodge (998616) | more than 5 years ago | (#28187171)

I'd support that. The obvious biological difference is that women can bear children. Since at least some women are going to be in their gender exclusive career (kids), of course they're going to be fewer women in careers available to both men and women. What we have here culturally is a mistaken notion that women are somehow inferior if they don't imitate men. Feminists have long been trying to get women to imitate men in every way, and it's causing a serious problem with the birth rates. Women were designed to have children, not be breadwinners. That's primarily the man's job. I'll probably lose karma for supporting the traditional family model, but if we don't get our birth rates up, Western society soon won't have any family model at all. (Just Google "global birth rates", "birth dearth", or similar terms.)

Of course it's mostly social influence... (2, Interesting)

VinylRecords (1292374) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186701)

I was a sports broadcasting and psychology double major in my undergraduate studies. When I was taking sports broadcasting classes it was a total sausage fest. Thirty guys talking about sports in an academic environment as if it was a locker room. Meanwhile in psychology it was always majority female in classrooms ranging from 60% to 90%. It was because sports writing and reporting is a male dominated field, whereas psychology was a necessary field of study for many female students who wanted to teach elementary or middle school, a field traditionally occupied by women. Also my school was 60% female so a typical class would have 60% women which really emphasized how incredibly one sided sports broadcasting was a major regarding gender divide.

While men and women solve problems differently, our brains are made up differently so that is to be expected, most studies conclude that even though we solve problems differently men and women reach the same conclusions eventually but they take different paths. Both genders are equally smart but think differently to solve the same problems.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_and_intelligence [wikipedia.org]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_differences [wikipedia.org]

If women don't know math.. (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28186737)

If women don't know math they might fuck up recipes.

sociology (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28186751)

It might be sociological in nature, but that does not mean that it is due to bigotry of white straight males.. I know, maybe women dont LIKE math as much, statistically speaking.

Re:sociology (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 5 years ago | (#28187177)

These days, white straight males don't like math much, either.

the biggest gaps seem to be in interest (5, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186785)

In most fields with a gender disparity in either direction, the minority sex is generally, under any reasonable attempt to measure inherent "ability", just as able to do it. The real gaps seem to be in interest: fewer men than women wish to enter psychology as a field, and fewer women than men wish to enter mathematics as a field, to take two examples. Why is that? It's not entirely clear, but it starts pretty early. For example, boys are much more likely than girls to play ad-hoc games that involve numbers and math, even at ages where girls tend to do better in school. Boys are also much more likely to build electronics or program computers as a hobby. Probably much of this is cultural, but that's where the real disparity lies, and you're never going to get parity unless you figure out how to change interest.

On the other hand, changing interest is always tricky, because you run the risk of trying to tell people they ought to be interested in something they really don't seem to be interested in.

why oh why (4, Insightful)

snl2587 (1177409) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186987)

Why oh why would you ever want to change interests? That's my whole problem with this debate whenever it comes up.

The real "solution" to this "problem" is to allow boys and girls to go into whatever field they so choose and encourage them no matter what.

Re:why oh why (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28187047)

Heretic! You must bow at the alter of equal outcomes!

pshhh! (1)

ilblissli (1480165) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186813)

if women were able to grasp basic mathematical skills my wife would know how to balance a freaking checkbook and understand why she can't buy a 300 dollar pair of shoes.

Windows of opportunity to learn (3, Interesting)

davidwr (791652) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186817)

By the time you are 20, your brain has gone through several "windows of opportunity" which are the best time to learn specific skills. For example, the window of opportunity for foreign languages for most people is in preschool.

If a given culture discourages certain members from learning certain skills until after the window closes, these individuals are now stuck with what might as well be an innate disadvantage in that area.

For these individuals, it's not important whether they could have been good at this or that if only they had taken classes when they were younger, the important thing is that if they do try to learn it, it will be relatively hard for them.

Plus, there's the whole issue of experience, someone who starts learning a skill at age 5 will have a 15-year head start on someone who starts learning a skill at age 20.

--
As societies, we need to accept the fact that there are very few if any things beyond giving birth or being a wet-nurse that either gender has an inherent advantage in if both are given equal opportunity and encouragement when they are young. All or almost all "gender-specific" advantages are created by the environment in which we live.

Simply doesn't address the real issue (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28186841)

This is an extremely dishonest story which does not address the most basic issues involved.
What Summers said at Harvard is supported by the evidence and remains the best explanation
for the "gender gap." Indeed, he felt confident that he could "get away" with his statements
because the evidence is so overwhelming and the facts so obvious.

Consider any number of physical traits the measurement of which is not controversial
(for instance, height, weight, ratio of arm length to leg length, etc.) A few empirical observations
can be readily made:

(1) the distributions are roughly Gaussian --- this make sense as these traits are controlled
by multiple genes and some version of the central limit theorem is operational

(2) the means vary by gender and ethnicity

(3) the standard deviations vary by gender and ethnicity

(4) a pattern quickly emerges: for virtually all traits the STANDARD DEVIATION
of the male distributions is somewhat larger than the female distribution --- although
not by much. Again this makes some intuitive sense --- men are biological more expendable
then women so more variation in male traits can be tolerated.

I can hardly be expected to believe that physical traits (the measurement of which is generally
not controversial) are unique in having property (4). Especially when the observable
data available for mental traits exhibits a difference in standard deviation.

This difference in standard deviation predicts what we see in practice --- if we set
a high threshold and look at the number of men and women with ability above
that threshold we expect the ratio of men to women to be large. Because this
is an effect of differences in standard deviation, it is not observable near the
middle of the distribution --- only at the tails.

There are many many articles which conclude that there is no gender gap
in mathematical ability because the mean of the male and female distributions
are the same or similar. I am not familiar with every such article,
but every one I have read --- including the two famous Science articles ---
presents observational data showing a difference in STANDARD DEVIATION.
An issue none of them seem to address.

Incidentally, any one familiar with the error function can easily
see that the variations in the ratio of men to women whose
mathematical ability exceeds a given threshold by ethnicity are
also predicated by this approach (to startlingly high accuracy --
do the math!) This again follows simply from the fact that
the mean and standard deviation of biological characteristics
vary by ethnicity

Everything I have said can be verified to a ridiculously high level of
certainty by someone with basic knowledge of Stat 101 and a copy
of Excel.

Re:Simply doesn't address the real issue (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28187109)

But it won't be, because your opinion is the unpopular one. Isn't life grand?

panz (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28186851)

Does the debate have to be who is better at math? Let's assume there are gender differences in brain physioogy and social conditioning, and that some of these differences will continue to exist even in an "equal" society. Isn't it possible that men will be "innately" better at some kinds of mathematics, and women will be "innately" better at other kinds of mathematical thinking. And isn't it possible that by understanding these potential differences and working together in productive teams, we can make better progress as a result? Wouldn't that be a win-win situation?

Absolute NO gap? (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 5 years ago | (#28186965)

To say that there's no gap means that whatever statistic is being used for comparison, it has the exact same value for the population of men as it does for the population of women.

The likelihood of that being true is essentially zilch.

The real questions should be: (a) how big is the gap, and (b) is it big enough for us to care.

Discrimination in Applied Science (2, Interesting)

onkelonkel (560274) | more than 5 years ago | (#28187031)

There is a branch of Applied Science where discrimination and outdated sexist attitudes still rule. The gender balance there is so heinously skewed that no other explanation is possible. There are those that suggest that perhaps persons of the under-represented gender simply aren't interested in this profession, or perhaps they lack the skills to do well, but clearly they are just making excuses for the sexist bigots that still dominate this field. I'm talking, of course, about the School of Nursing, where only 5% of the graduates are men.

I'm a man... (-1, Troll)

dr_wheel (671305) | more than 5 years ago | (#28187059)

...who discovered the wheel and built the Eiffel Tower out of metal and brawn. That's what kind of man I am. You're just a woman with a small brain. With a brain a third the size of us. It's science.

So? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28187099)

I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with either side of the argument. I don't know, and I know that I don't know. But... What's the big deal? Why is it such a faux pas that men may be better at maths or something. It's like, there is a massive backlash any time somebody says anything about race correlating with IQ or something... Well, why shouldn't there be a correlation? There are lot of other physical attributes that are different in different races and sexes, and yet a lot of people (In yet another case of something politically correct or something) seem to think every single person is identical in certain ways, e.g. intelligence. (I have not RTFA, and I have no problem with researching the topic for whatever reason, I am just having a dig at people who instantly think pointing out any difference between people of different race / sex / ... is evil discrimination. Oh, and while I'm on the topic, if you want the door holding open, iron my shirt and make me a sandwich, bitch)

Still amazed at the choices in the US high schools (2, Insightful)

guruevi (827432) | more than 5 years ago | (#28187139)

I'm still amazed that you can CHOOSE to opt out of high school calculus. I live in the US now and I know some youngsters that chose to minimize mathematics in their school schedule and then they wonder why they are stuck at pre-calc in 10th grade. Where I went to school in Europe, the girls or anyone didn't really have the choice. It was 8 hours of mathematics a week portioned between statistics (1h), geometry (1h), calculus (3h) and algebra (2h) and sometimes statistics was interchanged with small episodes of chaos theory or applied mathematics or whatever was necessary for a particular group.

I believe that the US schooling system needs a complete overhaul in order to create a better knowledge economy. First thing to do is add at least 1h per day to the school day. I see most kids get home at 2 or 3 in the afternoon even if they have to travel 2 hours because they're in an intercity exchange program. I remember being at school until at least 4pm and then you had to do homework and study for the next day too and if you were going to a specific specialty (eg. art, electronics, sports), traveling could also take 1 or 2 hours. The second thing to do is reduce sports activities during school hours to a maximum of 4 hours per week and fill those voids with science, mathematics and art. And for all those living in rural areas it would be interesting to expand electronic schooling so they only have to go to physical building two or three times a week (hybrid of home schooling and standard schooling). Those times should be devoted to a short overview, lab time and testing to make sure nobody is slacking at home.

Math Competitions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28187223)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_winners_of_the_Mathcounts_competition

Every single name on the list is either Male or Asian.

Way too simple of a model (1)

shadowofwind (1209890) | more than 5 years ago | (#28187229)

I think its too simplistic to put men and women on a continuum and talk about which is 'better' than the other. In my experience teaching math to men and women, they are approximately equal in skill overall. However, on the average they excelled in different ways. Women often organized their thoughts more clearly, while men seemed to get farther kludging their way through things. And at the very high end of the distribution, its not obvious what the differences would be.

In any case, there are obviously very intelligent mathematicians of both genders at the high end, so there needn't be any debate about that.

If fewer women become mathematicians than men, maybe women are just smarter about their career choices. Its not like there are a ton of non-academic jobs out there for people with math degrees.

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