January 19, 2015

Expectation of brilliance and gender distribution in academic disciplines

This is an interesting thesis which could be further examined if the researchers could undertake an examination of whether the under-represented groups do not have a deficiency of brilliance, but rather an over-abundance of modesty. Such an abundance would lead them to underestimate their own brilliance and thereby avoid areas where is is overvalued.

Expectations of brilliance underlie gender distributions across academic disciplines

Sarah-Jane Leslie1,*,†, Andrei Cimpian2,*,†, Meredith Meyer3, Edward Freeland4

ABSTRACT

The gender imbalance in STEM subjects dominates current debates about women’s underrepresentation in academia. However, women are well represented at the Ph.D. level in some sciences and poorly represented in some humanities (e.g., in 2011, 54% of U.S. Ph.D.’s in molecular biology were women versus only 31% in philosophy). We hypothesize that, across the academic spectrum, women are underrepresented in fields whose practitioners believe that raw, innate talent is the main requirement for success, because women are stereotyped as not possessing such talent. This hypothesis extends to African Americans’ underrepresentation as well, as this group is subject to similar stereotypes. Results from a nationwide survey of academics support our hypothesis (termed the field-specific ability beliefs hypothesis) over three competing hypotheses.

Link

16 comments:

Roy King said...

This is a fascinating study of the gender and ethnic differences by field in PhD attainment and selection. As an African-American with a PhD in mathematics, I realize how outliers may not be reflected in aggregate statistics. But family traditions are overlooked factors in field choice and accomplishments. Both my mother and my maternal grandfather were math professors in universities, my mother actually being the first female math professor and the first African-American professor at her institution. Taking a less anecdotal view, I'm reminded of the Greek/Egyptian female philosopher Hypatia whose father also was a mathematician in Alexandria. There are so many psychological and cultural factors involved in academic success that very nuanced and complex models are necessary for understanding differential academic achievement.

Krefter said...

I don't think most unbalanced academic success in certain fields is due to an unmoral way people see a certain gender or race in relation to that field. I think it mostly has to do with the difference between men and women, and culture.

People need to understand that the reason "white people" seem more mainstream in the western world, is because the west originated with Europeans aka "white people". The reason other cultures aren't very represented is because Europe has its own native culture.

Europe-west has been uniformly Christian for well over 1,000 years, and still is culturally mostly Christian, and so we shouldn't be surprised or offended that Christianity is represented more than other religions.

There's nothing immoral about what I described above.

I think there's alot of truth to this paper, but I think it could have some influence from extremist ideologies.

Colin Welling said...

and why are more boys in special education? Unless the researchers include this in their evaluation then I'm going to assume agenda driven research designed to help women move to the top but not help men move from the bottom.

Krefter said...

"There are so many psychological and cultural factors involved in academic success that very nuanced and complex models are necessary for understanding differential academic achievement."

I agree with that.

Over time if all races/ethnic groups/cultural groups become assimilated into a common culture, there will be more even representation in academics.

Michael Boblett said...

Europe uniformly Christian for 1000 years? No wonder Jews are lousy at math.

Gertrud Fremling said...

We can see a similar gender distribution at the undergraduate level, too: women dominate biology but not philosophy. It seems odd to assume that undergraduates, too, would choose majors according some perception of lacking talent.

Vin C said...

We hypothesize that, across the academic spectrum, women are underrepresented in fields whose practitioners believe that raw, innate talent is the main requirement for success.

Fixed the hypothesis for them. Their survey did not address the final clause of their original hypothesis statement. The literature review they conducted to lend support to that final clause was inadequate, to put it mildly.

Publications such as Science have no credibility when publishing papers in fields beset by the pressures of political correctness.

eurologist said...

I think there is a lot of filtering going on between middle school (when girls still dominate in STEM subjects), high-school, the undergraduate level, and highly successful post-PhD carriers.

It takes guts to concentrate on STEM fields in high-school, and even more so to choose those topics at university. It is really competitive, serves people well who like to show off their skills, and is a dreadful path for those who lean more towards the right on the hubris <-> humility spectrum, including men. I was a shy person and also was and am way to the right on that spectrum - but I had three older brothers, so I learned early on to switch over to the left in situations when absolutely necessary.

In the end, I chose a field of science that required competence in three major fields, and several subfields. Projects in this field are so much hard and interdisciplinary work that there is virtually no room for the "epiphany-type of brilliance" concocted in male-dominated subjects. And not surprisingly, there is a much higher percentage of female students and scientists in my field.

This may be similar to the Anthropology/ Archaeology continuum, in which it is very useful to be a physical (and also not) Anthropologist, Archaeologist, decent Biologist, Geneticist, Climate expert, and Linguist all at the same time to make true progress.

Unknown said...

The research is skewed to the extent that past illegal preferences, legalized by the US Constitution, seems to be ignored by many of the alleged research community. I keep repeating this that it is only from 1970 in USA there there has been some modicum of equity before the law and that in itself dubious! One cannot prevent a part of the citizenry from participating in the natural commons then claiming these same people cannot compete in the marketplace. You prevent learnng but are shocked by your own cognitive dissonance on the matter. One does not see a native American presence due to past preferences of the nation so the lack is not about inability but about pretense and political hegemony. Just like the Bell Curse concept i.e. on the left side are those who have access to representation then you have the right side of those who have never had exposure to said learning then you have the middling portion (80%) who, based on attitude, ignorance, access or lack thereof, mentors, etc who will either succeed or fail based on this interrelationship

Marnie said...

@eurologist

There is no evidence at all that "epiphany-type of brilliance", if there is such a thing, is something that appears more in men than women.

In my experience, both personally, as well as observing others, "epiphany type moments" usually happen after one has developed expertise and experience in a field. These moments do not appear out of thin air.

Regarding the whole genius thing in fields like math, physics and engineering, I think it has been played up particularly in the last few decades, as companies and universities try to get people in these fields to do research for relatively low pay, compared to other professions.

I can remember in the early eighties, when I started my studies, that comp sci was not considered to be a particularly "genius" like area, relative to say, physics. For the last ten years or so, the macho/genius thing has really been played up in comp sci.

As a field develops a "genius" mentality, certain people gravitate toward this, making it harder for more modest people to work in these fields.

And yes, I do think men, on average, are more arrogant than women. It's more socially acceptable for them. Women can't get away with this.

Marnie said...

Further to my comment above, you can have a look for yourself at the kind of advertising that contributes to the male==genius mentality that has become pervasive in Silicon Valley in the last ten years:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-11-19/boxer-clad-coders-adorn-silicon-valley-s-billboard-boom.html

There are currently a bunch of these ads towering over the 101 in San Francisco, dominating the skyline.

There are no women in any of these ads.

The message is: "geeky male" == "hottest tech talent"

I could be mad, but the underlying intent of these ads is rather sad. The intent is to get young, impressionable men working in IT to list themselves on DICE (a job board for Silicon Valley tech workers.)

Most of the jobs mentioned in these ads require a bachelors or masters degree in comp sci (not a PhD). They are not permanent positions. Average salary is about $90K per year (bubkas in San Francisco). No pension. Stock options usually worthless. Very long work hours. Little visibility. Poor job stability. Little vacation. Strong likelihood of being unemployed, or at least, pushed out of the field, after 40.

None of the men in these ads look to be older than 35.

Little wonder that women are eschewing computer science these days.

eurologist said...

"There is no evidence at all that "epiphany-type of brilliance", if there is such a thing, is something that appears more in men than women."

Marnie,

I totally agree with you - which is why I used the word "concocted."

I also pretty much agree with the other things you said.

Colin Welling said...

And yes, I do think men, on average, are more arrogant than women. It's more socially acceptable for them. Women can't get away with this.

What a weak and typical feminine thing to say. You blame others for your resilience to take risks. In doing so you want others to make it safe for you to take risks, which is just cognitive dissonance.

There are many cultural factors that make men and women different, which include men taking more risks, working longer hours, traveling further for their work, and so forth. However, unless people include the fact that boys are overrepresented in special education classes analyzing only the men at the top of the academic ladder is dubious.

Marnie said...

"boys are overrepresented in special education classes"

perhaps so, but irrelevant to the discussion here about the difference of retention of women and men as they advance in certain fields.

The paper above points out that women are entering fields such as engineering, comp sci, physics, philosophy, but start to drop out at the graduate level.

The study doesn't mention it, but various studies have indicated that women are not retained in the engineering workforce at the same rate as men.

Retention in the engineering workforce is poor in general. However, women still are dropping out at higher rates than men.

You can read the study yourself:

http://www.todaysengineer.org/2010/feb/satisfaction.asp

You can write it all off to "cultural factors", but I strongly doubt that the fact that women comprise only 11% of the engineering workforce is due only to "cultural factors".

Compare this to another highly competitive field with long work hours: law.

Women now comprise 34% of attorneys.

http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/marketing/women/current_glance_statistics_july2014.authcheckdam.pdf

"You blame others for your resilience to take risks."

Colin, that's just laughable. Do you really think that women are particularly risk averse compared to men? You're obviously just bafflegabbing to avoid discussing the paper and my comments. And it also sounds like you have some axe to grind against women. Very sad.

ryukendo kendow said...

@ Marnie

"Do you really think that women are particularly risk averse compared to men?"

Actually, this is one of the most permanent and pervasive differences in the psychological profiles of men and women, in all societies. The difference is largest in societies like Sweden and Norway and the smallest in societies like Kenya and Malaysia, mostly because men score more like women in poor societies with less gender equality. Gender differences in personality profiles and occupational preference is maximised as HDI and gender equality increases.

Grognard said...

Junk science, kind of sad to see it on this blog.