Family demands steer women away from math/science careers

March 15th, 2009 - 1:03 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Mar 15 (ANI): Women opt out of math/science careers not because they lack mathematical ability, but due to family demands, says a new study.

The research led by Cornell University revealed that women choose non-math-intensive fields for their careers because they want flexibility to raise children, or they prefer less math-intensive fields of science.

“A major reason explaining why women are underrepresented not only in math-intensive fields but also in senior leadership positions in most fields is that many women choose to have children, and the timing of child rearing coincides with the most demanding periods of their career, such as trying to get tenure or working exorbitant hours to get promoted,” said lead author Stephen J. Ceci, professor of human development at Cornell.

The study showed that women with advanced math abilities choose non-math fields more often than men with similar abilities.

According to co-author Wendy M. Williams, Cornell professor of human development, the drop out rate of women in scientific fields - especially math and physical sciences is high, particularly as they advance, because of their need for greater flexibility and the demands of parenting and caregiving,

“These are choices that all women, but almost no men, are forced to make,” she said.

For the study, the researchers conducted an integrative analysis of 35 years of research on sex differences in math.

The authors concluded that hormonal, brain and other biological sex differences were not primary factors in explaining why women were underrepresented in science careers, and that studies on social and cultural effects were inconsistent and inconclusive.

They also reported that although “institutional barriers and discrimination exist, these influences still cannot explain why women are not entering or staying in STEM careers,” said Ceci.

“The evidence did not show that removal of these barriers would equalize the sexes in these fields, especially given that women’’s career preferences and lifestyle choices tilt them toward other careers such as medicine and biology over mathematics, computer science, physics and engineering,” he added.

The authors recommended that universities and companies create options for women with math talents who want to pursue math-intensive careers.

These could include deferred start-up of tenure-track positions and part-time work that segues to full-time tenure-track work for women who are raising children, and courtesy appointments for women unable to work full time but who would benefit from use of university resources (e-mail, library resources, grant support) to continue their research from home.

The study appears in the American Psychological Association’’s Psychological Bulletin. (ANI)

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