Entendendo as causas atuais da baixa representação feminina na ciência

terça-feira, fevereiro 08, 2011

Understanding current causes of women's underrepresentation in science

Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams1

-Author Affiliations
Department of Human Development, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853

Edited by Richard F. Thompson, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, and approved December 6, 2010 (received for review October 6, 2010)


Explanations for women's underrepresentation in math-intensive fields of science often focus on sex discrimination in grant and manuscript reviewing, interviewing, and hiring. Claims that women scientists suffer discrimination in these arenas rest on a set of studies undergirding policies and programs aimed at remediation. More recent and robust empiricism, however, fails to support assertions of discrimination in these domains. To better understand women's underrepresentation in math-intensive fields and its causes, we reprise claims of discrimination and their evidentiary bases. Based on a review of the past 20 y of data, we suggest that some of these claims are no longer valid and, if uncritically accepted as current causes of women's lack of progress, can delay or prevent understanding of contemporary determinants of women's underrepresentation. We conclude that differential gendered outcomes in the real world result from differences in resources attributable to choices, whether free or constrained, and that such choices could be influenced and better informed through education if resources were so directed. Thus, the ongoing focus on sex discrimination in reviewing, interviewing, and hiring represents costly, misplaced effort: Society is engaged in the present in solving problems of the past, rather than in addressing meaningful limitations deterring women's participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers today. Addressing today's causes of underrepresentation requires focusing on education and policy changes that will make institutions responsive to differing biological realities of the sexes. Finally, we suggest potential avenues of intervention to increase gender fairness that accord with current, as opposed to historical, findings.

women in science, gender bias, child penalty, peer review


1To whom correspondence may be addressed. E-mail:stevececi@cornell.edu or wendywilliams@cornell.edu.

Author contributions: S.J.C. and W.M.W. designed research, performed research, and wrote the paper.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.

This article contains supporting information online at www.pnas.org/lookup/suppl/doi:10.1073/pnas.1014871108/-/DCSupplemental.

*Feeder pipelines are sometimes even higher than the numbers earning PhDs, indicating some leakage. For example, slightly more than 60% of B.S. degrees in biology are earned by women, so 52% female PhDs represents some pipeline leakage from the 60% of BS degrees.

†As a more important indicator of its influence, this article is frequently invoked as evidence by proponents of interventions such as NSF's $130 million ADVANCE initiative.

‡Analyses of >8,000 University of California graduate students’ responses by Mason and Goulden (50) document the important role played by family formation in female graduate students’ decisions to switch out of tenure-track careers in science. For example, married female doctoral students with children are 35% less likely to enter a tenure-track position after receiving a Ph.D. than married men with children and they are 27% less likely than men to achieve tenure. See http://ucfamilyedge.berkeley.edu/grad%20life%20survey.html.

Freely available online through the PNAS open access option.