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Computer programming once had much better gender balance than it does today. What went wrong?

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Replies to: Computer programming once had much better gender balance than it does today. What went wrong?

  • 1NJParent1NJParent Registered User Posts: 872 Member
    To succeed to in math and science (including computer science) often require single-mindedness. Most girls just aren't "wired" that way, perhaps because of cultural and societal biases. Girls tend to do well, and in fact better than boys, in math and sciences in HS. But how many of them win, or even participate in, Olympiad-level competitions in those subjects? Competitions at these levels require extremely high levels of dedication and single-mindedness. Looking for sexism is not the answer.
  • 1NJParent1NJParent Registered User Posts: 872 Member
    CS and Math were losing bright science-loving women to Bio because Bio was more welcoming to women.
    Biology is much less math-intensive than CS or physical sciences. In fact, you can't even compare. Biology has always attracted more female students and one of the reasons is precisely because it doesn't need as much the hardcore math and physics.
  • allyphoeallyphoe Registered User Posts: 2,185 Senior Member
    That trend is even true at the high school level.
    http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind14/content/chapter-1/at01-10.pdf

    Girls as a percent of all AP test takers in the HS graduating class of 2012:
    Biology: 59
    Environmental: 55
    Statistics: 52
    AB Calc: 49
    Chemistry: 47
    BC Calc: 41
    Physics B: 35
    Physics C Mechanics: 26
    Physics C E&M: 23
    Comp Sci A: 19
  • mathmommathmom Registered User Posts: 31,783 Senior Member
    edited February 16
    I think the problem is not with ability but opportunity or perceived opportunity. In 1975 only 22% of medical school students were female, in 2017 it was over 50%. Did women get better at bio in the past 40 years, or did the perception of success and opportunity change?
    Or did women decide that they would fight the sexism in med school and hospitals? In the early 1970s a pair of Duke professors published a truly appalling anatomy text book. Enough women objected that it is no longer in print. I really think the only way CS culture will change is for enough women to work at the badly behaving companies and changing them from the inside. It's no fun and it's not fair, but I really think that's the way change happens.

    Back in 1975 I took an intro CS class, but I just didn't like the fiddly stuff required to debug code. It never occured to me it was a boy's field. I ended up in architecture instead - another male dominated field. My architecture class in the early 1980s was 50/50, but if you look at stats for women in positions of power in architecture it's still mostly men.
  • 1NJParent1NJParent Registered User Posts: 872 Member
    In 1975 only 22% of medical school students were female, in 2017 it was over 50%. Did women get better at bio in the past 40 years, or did the perception of success and opportunity change?
    Perhaps women have become more passionate about bio and medical careers? There's nothing wrong with that, even if women take the majority of jobs (equally good paying jobs, btw) in those areas. Why do we have to have equal representation in every single area? We all have different talents and we should be allowed to do the things we're most talented in and passionate about, regardless of our gender (or anything else).
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 75,426 Senior Member
    http://newsroom.ucla.edu/stories/cracking-the-code:-why-aren-t-more-women-majoring-in-computer-science may be of interest.

    It does note that "A paradoxical finding is that even when men’s and women’s achievements are similar, women typically have lower confidence in their programming abilities than men."
  • Data10Data10 Registered User Posts: 2,776 Senior Member
    edited February 16
    Interesting, @Data10 . I think we need to ask where these women are going.
    As far as majors go, it's more choosing a variety of different fields instead of CS than switching to a single different field. One of the more correlated ones appears to be education. When the portion female CS majors had a rapid decline during 85-90, the portion female education majors increased by a 2-3% after holding steady for the previous 5 years. The number of female education majors increased by 21k during this period, and female CS majors dropped by 8k. Male education majors increased by 2k during this period, and male CS majors dropped by 9k.
    I can't find the data (my google skills are failing me), but women in other sciences is much higher than CS or Math. So the argument about girls not being interested in science is wrong.
    ~57% of bachelors degrees are conferred to women, so in a random distribution 57% of each major would be conferred to women. The actual numbers are below. Physics is as bad as CS and Engineering, but women have as similar percentage to men in life sciences / pre-med type majors.

    2017 Bachelor Degrees Conferred: Total
    CS -- 19% women
    Physics -- 21% Women
    Engineering -- 22% Women
    Earth Sciences -- 39% Women
    Math and Stats -- 41% women
    Chemistry -- 49% Women
    Biology -- 61% women
    Average of All Majors -- 57% women

    My personal experience was huge differences in CS enrollment compared to non-engineering fields. In my HS classes, the highest levels of math and science classes had a good balance between male and female students. However, my AP CS class only had 1 girl in the class, which was a far worse gender balance I experienced during any other HS class. Several of the guys in the class did not treat the 1 girl well, with worse teenage boy stuff than usual, which I imagine discouraged her from continuing in CS. College was not much better. My EE class at Stanford was ~90% male. I see that today Stanford has improved to more than 20% female in EE.

    Among the 26 highly selective colleges with an acceptance rate below 20% and 25th percentile ACT score of >= 30, the combined percentages are below. Highly selective colleges tend to better in CS and engineering than the overall average, but worse in math.

    2017 Bachelors Degrees Conferred: Highly Selective Colleges
    EE -- 23% Women
    Physics: 28% Women
    Math: General -- 29% Women
    CS -- 30% Women
    Math: Applied -- 37% Women
    Engineering -- 38% Women
    Chemistry -- 45% Women
    Biology -- 57% Women
    Average of All Majors -- 50% Women

    Among specific highly selective colleges, Mudd and MIT did best which makes sense to me given that highly selective colleges generally try to achieve 50/50 gender balance for the full class, not for specific majors. The more a specific highly selective colleges emphasizes tech majors, the more admission preference is likely to favor admitting more women who favor those majors, as an effort to achieve overall college 50/50 gender balance. Stanford also fits with this pattern to some extent. However, Swarthmore and Amherst are anomalies, probably due to small sample size.. In the previous year, they were both lower than the overall average for highly selective colleges.

    Highest Female CS Percentage
    1. Harvey Mudd -- 41%
    2. MIT -- 38%
    3. Swarthmore -- 37%
    4. Amherst -- 33%
    5. Stanford -- 32%

    Lowest Female CS Percentage
    1. Northwestern -- 18%
    2. Vanderbilt -- 19%
    3. WUSTL -- 20%
    4. Haverford -- 21%
    5. Williams -- 23%
  • 1NJParent1NJParent Registered User Posts: 872 Member
    @roycroftmom There's sexism as there's racism in our society, unfortunately. I certainly understand the situation your daughter was in and sexism was clearly part of it. However, I don't believe sexism is the cause for the lopsided imbalance we have today in CS. If we all just focus on intellectual merits, rather than physical differences, and let our talents and abilities speak for themselves, there will be no place for stereotyping. None of us will be referred to as "the blonde", or "the black", if we accomplish something great.
  • kiddiekiddie Registered User Posts: 3,383 Senior Member
    I like this chart from the US census - unfortunately it ends in 2011 but my guess is that the computer workers line would now be even lower https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/newsroom/releases/2013/cb13-162_stem_female.pdf
  • Data10Data10 Registered User Posts: 2,776 Senior Member
    edited February 17
    I certainly understand the situation your daughter was in and sexism was clearly part of it. However, I don't believe sexism is the cause for the lopsided imbalance we have today in CS. If we all just focus on intellectual merits, rather than physical differences, and let our talents and abilities speak for themselves, there will be no place for stereotyping.
    There is not a single cause of the poor gender balance in CS. Sexism is definitely present at many levels ranging from grade school to post-college career, and that sexism contributes to the poor gender balance. However, I don't think it's the primary factor. Beyond sexism, there are also cultural factors. At a young age men are more likely to be encouraged and rewarded in CS related activities than women.

    For example, I mentioned the gaming marketing earlier. It's my understanding that in the 1980s, toy sellers usually had a strict divide between girls and boys -- girls on one shelf and boys on the other. Someone decided that video and computer games get marketed to boys instead of girls, and as such almost all marketing was directed at males. This led to a cycle of males buying computers stuff, and more marketing directed at males. For example, a home computer ad from 1985 is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxNjx_VWJ8U&feature=youtu.be . A girl does briefly appear on a computer in the ad, but the boy sabotages her with a mischievous smile, then the narrator goes on to talk about how a home computer can help the boy be successful in graduate school and become an astronaut or marine biologist.

    This type of culture contributed to boys getting an earlier and better start with programming and computers. One Carnegie Mellon review on the gender imbalance in the 90s reports that 40% of males at CMU placed out of intro CS through AP credits, while none of the female students placed out. Students who start out behind are less likely to pursue the field in college. It's not as bad today, yet still more than 80% of CS AP exams were taken by males.

    As you touched on, there is a genetic contribution as well. Women tend to favor and be talented at more communicative and empathetic fields than do men. And men tend to score higher on exams centered on math/logic, which is correlated with CS, particularly at the highest level. However, this is far beyond any type of threshold to be successful in CS.
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