February 4, 2011

From Psychology to Physics...

... the gender divide.

43 comments:

traditionalguy said...

So is it the DNA that is making this happen? Watch out what you say here unless you have way more clout than Larry Summers did.

edutcher said...

I didn't know women had a math anxiety gene.

rhhardin said...

Gee, there I am an the bottom, computer science and physics.

Florida said...

From Feeling-Based to Fact-Based.

Easy to get a PhD in disciplines where there is no "right" answer. All subjective-based disciplines.

Math doesn't care if you're cute.

shoutingthomas said...

So, it's men's fault that more women don't major in science, computer science and other hard technical fields.

Meanwhile, the ladies are all signing up for English and Women's Studies.

Sarah Palin is using her psychic powers to hypnotize them.

shoutingthomas said...

But, the bad news:

The HR Department is staffed by those very women who refuse to learn any hard skills.

And those women have had their head stuffed full of Diversity.

They are lethal.

And what consequences do you think this has for our ability to compete?

Chip S. said...

Comments at Crooked Timber are classic. Fields with low pct. female = "problem." Fields with high pct. female = "no problem."

As long as people are choosing fields based on their own interests and abilities, why should anyone care what is the resulting breakdown in terms of sex?

What I demand to know is how each field ranks in terms of average height.

Original Mike said...

Nobody likes physics. {pouts}

Original Mike said...

Actually, I guess women don't like physics {really pouts}

Maguro said...

Fascinating. It's almost like men and women are different or something.

Chip S. said...

@OM: The data don't necessarily imply that women don't like physicists. YMMV

Original Mike said...

"@OM: The data don't necessarily imply that women don't like physicists. YMMV"

Ohh. I see what you mean. {feels better}

AJ Lynch said...

It would be interesting if a socialogist studied the cause for the increase in social worker type jobs in the last 50 years. Except for K-12 teachers, I bet the social worker occupation has grown more than almost any other [especially if we include Diversity Officers as social workers which they are IMO].

Paddy O said...

Interesting.

My experience at Fuller Seminary pretty much matches this. In the school of theology it's mostly men, with probably about 30%-35% women. The school of psychology is just the opposite.

On the other hand, I have a good friend who got her PhD in theoretical physics before moving on to work in materials science/engineering. But she does talk about the big bias against women in her field, even as she works her ass off to perform at top levels, so she doesn't use the bias as an excuse. Just what it is.

Kurt said...

Of course one could flip this around and ask what it says about those disciplines that so few men decide to get PhDs in Psychology and English these days. I would theorize that the answer might have something to do with the job market in those disciplines being terrible and, consequently, there might be cultural reasons why more women than men feel comfortable pursuing a degree that might not pay off. That doesn't explain the imbalance of men in philosophy, though, so evidently that theory needs some modification. Suggestions, anyone?

wv: worit--as in "are you worit that your degree might not be marketable?"

Original Mike said...

"But she does talk about the big bias against women in her field, even as she works her ass off to perform at top levels,"

Without commenting on her personal experiences, which I obviously can't, I can make an observation. Excepting a few geniuses, everybody at the top level is working their ass off.

TMink said...

AJ, I think you are right about the rise of the social worker. And they are ALL taught that there job is to promote social justice for the oppressed. I kid you not.

Psychology is like jazz. It is a big word and means lots of different things. I have a psychologist friend who does objective testing or brains all day long, another guy is a psychologist who breeds and studies ADHD rats, and I sit in a room with people and help them change. So there is a hard nosed branch of psychology then there is therapy.

I am a male psychologist and the only man in 10 counties who works with children. Actually, it gives me a leg up being a man in a female dominated profession! But perhaps I should just ask for a grant or program as a minority.

Trey

shoutingthomas said...

Of course one could flip this around and ask what it says about those disciplines that so few men decide to get PhDs in Psychology and English these days.

To be blunt, a man would have to be a masochist to enter those fields.

Who wants to sit through years of classes that blame white hetero men for everything?

Not to mention the America is to blame for everything shit.

HKatz said...

It's interesting - there's strong female representation in molecular biology and neuroscience, which draw heavily on other disciplines like chemistry, math, and also computers depending on what you study (like computer models of memory and other brain processes and functions).

From Feeling-Based to Fact-Based.
Not exactly. I don't see the more male-dominated disciplines of philosophy and religious studies as necessarily more fact-based (same goes for political science, though that's more even).

Also, psychology itself is a broad field and depending on what you study in it, you're not simply interested in "subjective answers". Cognitive psych for instance can involve a good deal of math and modeling, an understanding of stats and computer programming. Also for linguistics you need to have a grasp of logic at the least, but usually also math in general (especially when studying something like computational linguistics).

Easy to get a PhD in disciplines where there is no "right" answer.
Depends on what you mean by easier. In the humanities, because of poor job prospects, there's a pretty high dropout rate for PhDs. Remember that this graph doesn't show raw numbers, but comparative percentages.

Martin L. Shoemaker said...

Paddy O and Original Mike, I think you're both on target.

One of the best physics profs I had was a woman: driven, demanding, and at least 20 IQ points up on me.

That meant she fit in well with my other physics profs, who were driven and demanding and at least 20 IQ points up on me.

Physics selects for aptitude above all else. I am quite sure there are biases among some of the practitioners and committees and whatnot; but the price of admission is aptitude (and drive).

Me, I found myself deficient in higher maths, and so ended up in programming. I'm almost surely making more money than I ever would have in physics, and I'm having lots of fun; but sometimes I still kinda wish I had those 20 extra IQ points and could sit around all day working out the mysteries of the universe.

Henry said...

The visual arts don't even show. The MFA is a terminal degree, so no PhD's are awarded there.

However, in the big chart (http://kieranhealy.org/files/misc/phil-all-disciplines.pdf) Art history/criticism/conservation shows as heavily female.

If you want a tell, go to the big chart and compare nutrition sciences to all the other biological sciences.

Another tell: Compare Chemistry, General to Chemistry. I strongly suspect that "General" is cover for a multitude of nonsense, but I could be wrong.

Another: Compare Music Performance to Music Theory

Another: Psychology to Cognitive psychology

Florida posits a scale of "Fact-based to Feeling-based". A different scale might be "specialized to general."

One of the major things missing from this chart is quantity.

Very few people study music theory or condensed matter/low temperature physics. I suspect the outliers are made more so because of the small numbers of people involved. We approach Larry Summers' theory of extreme cases.

Original Mike said...

"Easy to get a PhD in disciplines where there is no "right" answer."

Depends how you're put together. I would find it difficult.

Lucien said...

I wonder how this study was controlled for the possibility that foreign born students are disproportionately represented in certain PhD programs and that they may be disproportionately male (or female).

It could also be interesting to know the mean time betweeen initiation of a PhD program and award of degree plotted by discipline.

Roger J. said...

Interesting data and comments--I think part of the issue may be attributed to the faculty who are advising and serving on the committees of PhD Candidates--there is a whole body of organizational theory that looks at "organizational culture."

I think there might be a way to get at this issue by looking at the numbers of PhD candidates who start versus the number of PhDs actually awarded--would be interesting to examine the attrition rates by discipline and gender.

Big Mike said...

Physics selects for aptitude above all else. I am quite sure there are biases among some of the practitioners and committees and whatnot; but the price of admission is aptitude (and drive).

Right on target! If your brain isn't wired for mathematics, you will never be a mathematician. If your brain isn't wired for physics, you will never be a physicist. It's really that simple.

Scott M said...

If your brain isn't wired for physics, you will never be a physicist. It's really that simple.

Thus forever crushing my hopes for designing and building the first working FTL drive in my woodshop.

Thanks.

jayne_cobb said...

I am curious as to what the breakdown would be if they accounted for Masters degrees as well.

Original Mike said...

"Thus forever crushing my hopes for designing and building the first working FTL drive in my woodshop."

You can't make a warp drive out of wood.

Roger J. said...

What Mike and Scott said--I had always hoped to create the time machine--alas, not hard wired for it I guess.

Scott M said...

You can't make a warp drive out of wood.

You have no idea how humid my woodshop is.

Henry said...

If you can make a warp drive, why not wood?

Ankur said...

This is such a fantastic chart.

Biochem and neurosciences straddle the 50/50 mark.

Of course, the physics and computer science stuff doesn't surprise me. I've been in grad school in both those disciplines and the atmosphere, even in the best schools in the world, isn't really very open to females. Yes, nerds can and are often sexist.

And yet, unless you have positive female role models while growing up (I was fortunate, my mother is a professor of chemistry at a fairly well known university, and my (much older) sister is an electrical engineer), and you go into the hard science and find yourself surrounded by men, how do you LEARN to be respectful and welcoming to women in your professional life?

I remember being dismissive, when I was back in college, of the "psych/socio major type bubbleheads". I have revised my opinion now that I have actually known and met some of them - and I wish I had taken more of those classes when I had the chance, to round me out a little more.

So I think its a chicken and egg problem. We men don't always welcome women in the hard science fields which have typically been male dominated. But the blame isn't totally ours because we never learn HOW to, because we don't see too many positive examples of women in our fields. I am afraid the only way around it is for a few brave women to burst through, and get us used to their presence and their skills and be pioneers for their gender, and thus pave the way for more women in the future.

And from what my mother tells me, that is already happening. It would be interesting to compare this chart to a similar chart from 1950, and then see if feminism has achieved anything or no.

Ankur said...

" HKatz said...
It's interesting - there's strong female representation in molecular biology and neuroscience"

You know, I was thinking about that too. I wonder if that is because those hard sciences are newer, so they don't have a well established maleness to them.

My female friends in math and physics also mention the sexism they face from their colleagues to be taken seriously, and I consistently see them working harder and doing better work to prove themselves. Again, then don't complain, as Paddy O's friend doesn't - they accept it and they work to balance it out. They are true pioneers, I think, and I respect them the more for that.

Sofa King said...

My female friends in math and physics also mention the sexism they face from their colleagues to be taken seriously

Not to be insulting, but why are you so credulous as to take their hearsay at face value? And think that we would find double hearsay to be any relevance? What exactly is the nature of this "sexism?" I mean, these are hard sciences, right? You either know the material or not. Aren't the exams even blind graded nowadays? How can someone who masters the material be *substantively* held back?

PaulV said...

I had Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf for physics as an engineering undergrad. Her field was material science. She received her PhD in Germany in 1947. Likely there were few men in her program during the war. Scanning the comments in article it was apparant how close minded the commenters are. Sheerly unable to comtemplate that people think differently. Einstein deduced his theories from results of experiments that were common knowledge at time. They could be derived from algebra. But even people skilled in field had problems following his logic. I can follow his logic because it was explained to me, slowly.
The commenter could not entertain the hypothesis nature may have an influence and that it is not all nuture.

Original Mike said...

I currently have two male doctoral candidates and two female candidates. Just worked out that way. It never occurs to me, when I'm considering taking on a student, what sex they are. (I guess the Dean of Diversity and Climate probably just cringed.)

Ankur said...

Sofa King, the people I am talking about are in academia, they aren't students.

You are absolutely right in saying that they didn't have to work any harder getting their exam scores or grades. In fact, they probably had to work a little less when they were in grad school because all the guys (yes, we were losers) were busy trying to woo the two girls in our class ! (while being generally disrespectful to females in our line of study).

The discrimination they are talking about is NOW, as professionals. They are both researchers and non-tenured professors in very well known/respected schools. And they say that the dice are loaded against them when it comes to research fund allocation, tenure, and general quality of the papers they produce. According to them, they have to provide higher quality of work to be at par with the males in their department.

And why do I take them at face value? because they are my friends, who I have known for many years and they have no reason to lie to me, especially knowing how I feel about false accusations of discrimination.

As for why you should take secondary hearsay..well, you don't have to. Its your choice to believe or disbelieve. It is natural for people to want to disbelieve anecdotes that go against the narrative they want to hear, and I don't begrudge you that.

Sofa King said...

because they are my friends, who I have known for many years and they have no reason to lie to me,

I don't doubt they wouldn't lie to you. But don't expect me to believe you've never heard of confirmation bias.

The Crack Emcee said...

From Psychology to Physics...the gender divide.

You've got to put psychics in there to really see it.

Paddy O said...

I mean, these are hard sciences, right?

The fields are hard sciences. The people in the field are still people. And people commit bias.
I know people, like Ankur, and they talk about the same thing. Now my particular friend has been published in Science, among other reputable places, received major funding, and still talks about the sexism in her field (nanotech).


Why the bias? All kinds of reasons. People are people and have hopes, fears, jealousies, pettiness and so on. Every academic I know, no matter the field, talks about having to navigate the personalities. Yes, a stand out, absolutely brilliant person will generally rise above, but for the most part, in every field most people are at the same level of basic intelligence (though sometimes the same level of advanced intelligence). So, there's always politics, and there's other ways to promote one's favorites and hold back one's enemies.

The people in science are sometimes the problem, not the field itself.

Of course, my friend also got tenure at a major research institution beloved by many on this blog. So, sexism may hit, but performance and high quality work definitely helps.

Crimso said...

"You can't make a warp drive out of wood."

It's precisely that sort of in-the-box thinking that will doom us to remaining stuck forever on this wet rock.

Revenant said...

. I wonder if that is because those hard sciences are newer, so they don't have a well established maleness to them.

More likely it is because they are both related to medicine.

Original Mike said...

"It's precisely that sort of in-the-box thinking that will doom us to remaining stuck forever on this wet rock."

I could be wrong.