10-20 years, the fraction of women and minorities in the mathematical sciences drops with each step along the pipeline and up the career ladder. This very leaky pipeline, which was identified as a problem in the 1990 “David II” report11 and earlier, is now the key problem in achieving further diversity and undermines the ability of the mathematical sciences to make full use of its potential talent pool. This section briefly examines the current state of minority and female representation at various levels (K-12, undergraduate, master’s, Ph.D., and the professoriate) along with recent trends, and it profiles some efforts that are under way to encourage greater representation.

In elementary school, girls perform much like boys on mathematics standardized testing. Standardized testing scores indicate that young girls (age 9) are performing at the same level—if not a higher one—than boys of the same age. However, a score gap between girls and boys appears in middle school (age 13) and grows in high school (age 17). A contrasting and rather revealing study of this issue appeared in a 2008 article that studied the effects of culture on the participation of girls at the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) teams among children from different countries.12 The authors found that, based on IMO participation, some East European and Asian countries produce girls with profound ability in mathematical problem solving; most other countries, including the United States, do not. Further, they found that girls on the U.S. team often are recent immigrants from countries that typically produce such talented girls. While they do not identify the environmental factors that make these countries more supportive of girls, the study shows the strong effect of the environment on bringing out mathematical talent in girls, and it suggests that the United States can do a lot more to avoid wasting this talent, as discussed below.

In the United States, approximately 40 percent of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in the mathematical sciences are awarded to women. Because more women than men now attend college, there is definitely room for improvement. Although this rate of female participation is enviable compared to rates found in many other technical fields, there is still a lost opportunity, because more women than men drop out of the mathematical sciences pipeline after high school. Then in college, while mathematics initially attracts as many women as men, women seem to move away from the field at a higher rate before graduation. In particular, graduate training in mathematics clearly does not attract as many women as men. Of the total doctorates granted in 2009-2010 (1,632), 31 percent of recipients were female. Figure 5-1 shows the trends in the percentage of females receiving bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees in mathematics and statistics from 1969 to 2009.13


11 NRC, 1990, Renewing U.S. Mathematics: A Plan for the 1990s. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.

12 Titu Andreescu, Joseph A. Gallian, Jonathan M. Kane, and Janet E. Mertz, 2008, Cross-cultural analysis of students with exceptional talent in mathematical problem solving. Notices of the AMS 55(10):1248-1260.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement