differences in backgrounds is necessary, but not sufficient, for understanding differences in career outcomes that are the focus of later chapters. We begin by examining the educational background of a scientist’s parents. We then turn to characteristics of a scientist’s own education, including the type of baccalaureate institution attended, the prestige of the doctoral program, time from the baccalaureate to the Ph.D., and the types of financial support received during graduate study. While there has been a reduction in gender differences in background characteristics, some differences remain that may lead to disadvantages for women in their postdoctoral careers. We end the chapter by examining differences between male and female scientists and engineers in marriage and having children. Later chapters show that the effects of marriage and family on career outcomes are very different for men and women.

While our focus is on quantifying gender differences in individual backgrounds, it is important to keep in mind that gender differences in entry into science and engineering can arise both from differences in the socioeconomic backgrounds of individuals and from differences in access to education. Differences in background can also interact with opportunities in complex ways. For example, a young woman who believes that her chances for a rewarding future in science are not as good as a male classmate’s might choose, on that basis alone, to enter a different profession. Similarly, a woman who believes (whether that belief is correct or not) that she must meet higher standards for admission than a man might decide not to enter the competition on such an uneven basis. If women make different decisions about their education than do men, as they often do, the reasons could have less to do with interest and ability than with the perception of unfairness.

While differences in personal background characteristics are easy to document with the types of survey data that we have, the evidence on past discrimination against women is often circumstantial. Nonetheless, until the advent of Title IX of the 1972 Higher Education Amendments, discrimination against women was widely practiced throughout higher education, especially in research universities. The practice of requiring higher grades and test scores for the admission of women was ubiquitous in universities and professional schools, resulting in the exclusion of thousands of women whose abilities matched those of admitted men. Low quotas for the admission of women to certain undergraduate curricula, especially schools and colleges of science, were common. For example, at Cornell University, despite its founding as a coeducational institution, housing for women (but not for men) was limited, resulting in a system of assigning only small numbers of “female beds” to those departments deemed unsuitable for women (Conable 1977:110–117). Following passage

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