The Magazine

Ladies’ Entrance

Counting the numbers of women in science.

Apr 26, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 30 • By SABRINA L. SCHAEFFER
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Beyond Bias is the first step toward implementing Title IX-style legislation for physics, mathematics, and engineering departments. But Sommers reminds us that “the physical sciences are the exception, not the rule .  .  . women now earn 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees and 59 percent of master’s degrees overall.” And Charles Murray offers a series of comparisons from the 1950s to today: “In math and statistics,” he writes, “women got 27 percent of the bachelor’s degrees and 6 percent of the doctorates in 1960. In 2005, the comparable figures were 45 percent and 30 percent.” 

The Science on Women and Science remains optimistic about women’s prospects. There is consensus among most of the contributors that women are in a considerably better professional position today than a half-century ago, and that they expect to see even more success in the future. Barnett and Sabattini acknowledge that “between 1966 and 2004, the percentage of women completing a PhD went from 5.8 to 30.3; similarly, the proportion of women completing an S&E master’s program went from 9.6 percent to 32 percent.” And Joshua Aronson, who writes about the “stereotype threat” on the social-construct side of the argument, stresses that the gender gap “shows signs of closing. .  .  . For the past three decades women have been catching up to men, even overtaking them, in many other areas of academics.”

But the question remains: Is full parity in the sciences necessary for women to achieve equality with men? Or can society accept that men and women will, no matter how balanced the circumstances, always have some different preferences and aptitudes? And what does this mean for the future of science? It’s obvious that considerable uncertainty persists regarding what causes women to gravitate toward some fields and what causes men to gravitate toward others. What is certain is that readers should fear the notion of the federal government micromanaging academia, implementing quotas, and changing the culture of science in America in the name of gender equality.

 

Sabrina L. Schaeffer is the managing partner of Evolving Strategies and a senior fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum.

 

 

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