TABLE 2-9 Comparison Between Conventional Thinking and Our Findings

Conventional Wisdom

Our Findings

  • Math deficiency

  • “Pipeline” paradigm

  • “War of the sexes” within marriage

  • Low rates of research productivity

  • Some “key” factor

  • Gender gap in mathematics is small

  • Career processes are fluid and dynamic

  • Being married and having children matter

  • Sex differences in research productivity declined and can be attributed to differences in personal characteristics and structural features of employment

  • Deep social, cultural and economic roots

change in biological differences between the sexes, or the interaction between gender and parental status, which suggests that factors outside educational and work settings play an important role.

Women’s underrepresentation in science/engineering has deep social, cultural, and economic roots that will not be transformed by a few isolated policy interventions or programs. Increasing women’s representation in science/engineering requires many social, cultural, and economic changes that are large-scale and interdependent. After spending ten years searching for explanations, our research indicates we should stop looking for simple explanations and easy fixes, as attractive as they may be to us as human beings. Instead, we should look at the actual social processes that generate gender differences in science, and base policy interventions on empirical knowledge about these processes. Finally, while there may be policy changes that could address some of the complex reasons for women’s underrepresentation, we should not expect any individual policy change to bring about gender equity in science overnight.


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JS Long (1992). Measures of Sex Differences in Scientific Productivity. Social Forces 71:159-178.

LW Sells (1980). The mathematics filter and the education of women and minorities. In: Women and the Mathematical Mystique, eds. L Fox, L Brody, and D Tobin. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Y Xie and KA Shauman (1998). Sex differences in research productivity revisited: New evidence about an old puzzle. American Sociological Review 63:847-870.

Y Xie and KA Shauman (2003). Women in Science: Career Processes and Outcomes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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