Women who are highly proficient at math are choosing to forgo math-intensive science careers, according to a study published in the March issue of the Psychological Bulletin. The study, analyzing 35 years of data, offers a different explanation for why women are underrepresented math-focused fields—and it has nothing to do with a lack of ability.
Women are increasingly opting out of careers in math-intensive fields such as computer science, physics, technology, engineering, chemistry, and higher mathematics because they want the flexibility to raise children, or because they prefer other fields of science that rely less on math, such as veterinary medicine and dentistry. Women also drop out of mathematical fields at higher rates than men.
Today, women compose about 50 percent of medical school classes. However, despite these gains, women who enter academic medicine are less likely than men to be promoted or serve in leadership positions. And, while women are also well represented in other less math-intensive fields, such as law, biology, and psychology, they’re underrepresented in top positions in these fields as well.
The study’s lead author says a major reason that women are underrepresented in math-heavy fields, but also in senior leadership positions in most fields, is because women choose to have children. The timing of childbearing coincides with the most demanding periods of their careers, such as trying to get tenure or working overtime to get promoted.