Women Can’t Do the Math?April 04, 2011
Each month this year, AAUW teams up with Nature Publishing Group, one of the world’s leading science publishers, in an online forum on women in science. The AAUW posts highlight findings from our 2010 research report, Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, now in its third printing.
Some people suggest that women are underrepresented in certain science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields because boys outnumber girls at the very high end of the math test score distribution. In other words, girls’ and women’s math skills hold them back from pursuing STEM careers.
This argument is not convincing to me for two reasons. First, girls have made large inroads into the ranks of children identified as “mathematically gifted” in the past 30 years, while women’s representation in mathematically demanding fields such as physics, computer science, and engineering has not kept pace.
And the second reason — even more compelling than the first, in my opinion — is that the science and engineering workforce is not populated primarily by the highest-scoring math students, male or female. Researcher Catherine Weinberger found that fewer than one-third of college-educated white men in the engineering, math, computer science, and physical science workforce scored higher than 650 on the math section of the SAT, and more than one-third scored below 550 — the math score of the average humanities major.
So even though a correlation exists between high school math test scores and later entry into STEM education and careers, very high math scores are not necessarily a prerequisite for success in STEM fields.
What do you think?