A new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper:
Sex and Science: How Professor Gender Perpetuates the Gender Gap
“Why aren’t there more women in science? Female college students are currently 37 percent less likely than males to obtain a bachelor’s degree in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and comprise only 25 percent of the STEM workforce. This paper begins to shed light on this issue by exploiting a unique dataset of college students who have been randomly assigned to professors over a wide variety of mandatory standardized courses. We focus on the role of professor gender. Our results suggest that while professor gender has little impact on male students, it has a powerful effect on female students’ performance in math and science classes, their likelihood of taking future math and science courses, and their likelihood of graduating with a STEM degree. The estimates are largest for female students with very strong math skills, who are arguably the students who are most suited to careers in science. Indeed, the gender gap in course grades and STEM majors is eradicated when high performing female students’ introductory math and science classes are taught by female professors. In contrast, the gender of humanities professors has only minimal impact on student outcomes. We believe that these results are indicative of important environmental influences at work.”
(sidenote: How often do you see the words sex and science together?)
I’ve written before about gender differences in math, and I was willing to accept the finding that, while men and women were observed to have the same math ability on average, there were more men on the extreme ends of the spectrum. Now I am curious as to how much of that observation can be attributed to high-performing females not having female professors/teachers around as positive role models. (Note that the abstract above says that the presence of female professors had an effect on not only field of study but also performance, and that there was no negative impact on men from having a female professor.)
I have two bachelor’s degrees in the above fields, and I used to be a math TA, so clearly I am doing my part. 🙂 I must say that I really was shocked at the gender imbalance that I encountered when I got to grad school, even for economics. Also, I definitely notice the whole being female thing much more in grad school than I ever did as an undergrad, even though my computer science department was only 10-15% female. If one believes that there is a social benefit to having both genders adequately represented in the sciences, there is clearly a positive externality to having female faculty members (or a negative externality on male faculty members, depending on your perspective). The efficient thing to do when positive externalities are present is to encourage production…so who wants to give me a full-time teaching job? Don’t all jump at once, please…
I used to teach a few sections of a very large (800-900 students) introductory economics class at Harvard, and I am now curious as to whether the above results hold for students in that course. (No jokes about economics being a social science rather than a real science please, or I may have to hunt you down and send a person larger than myself over to kick your ass. I’m all about the division of labor, clearly.) On that note, if you need me in the next few days, I will be in front of the computer playing with various statisical software packages. kthx.
P.S. I think attitudes like this may be part of the problem, no? (I think I have posted this before, courtesy of xkcd)