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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?

  • Data10Data10 3280 replies11 threads Senior Member
    edited February 2019
    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%
    edited February 2019
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  • 1NJParent1NJParent 1563 replies35 threads Senior 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.
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  • kiddiekiddie 3637 replies223 threads 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
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  • Data10Data10 3280 replies11 threads Senior Member
    edited February 2019
    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.
    edited February 2019
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  • Cardinal FangCardinal Fang 18421 replies159 threads Senior Member
  • HamurtleHamurtle 2722 replies36 threads Senior Member
    Interesting debate-my son’s pressure cooker high school in California had 3 MIT acceptances in the last 2 years. All girls who participated in multiple math contests nationally and internationally.

    My son said that his Calc BC Class was probably 60/40 males/females and that the girls were probably the best students in the class. It might have not been the norm, but the AB/BC and AP Stats teachers in his school were all women. As well as the AP CompSci teacher.
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  • jzducoljzducol 778 replies14 threads Member
    edited February 2019
    MIT sends three times as many acceptance offers to girls as to boys because yields among girls is very low. At my kids school that always seems to be the case.
    For girls who have some math/CS awards like AIME, there is over 90% chance they are admitted to MIT/HarveyMudd, according to my local math club teacher who tracked stats for the last ten years.
    The problem is that for top math/CS girls who can get in both MIT/HM/CMU and HYP, they are more likely to choose the latter by my observation.
    And girls who are top performer in CS/Math seem more multi-dimensional than boys, less likely to be the nerdy type. People with both strong verbal and CS/Math skills tend to find professions outside being a career coder more lucrative and attractive.
    edited February 2019
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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 80147 replies720 threads Senior Member
    Hamurtle wrote:
    My son said that his Calc BC Class was probably 60/40 males/females and that the girls were probably the best students in the class.

    The confidence level suggested in the article linked in reply #40 may be related here -- the girls who are confident enough to choose calculus BC in high school may be stronger on average than the boys who are confident enough to choose calculus BC in high school. I.e. the girls who are as good in math as the bottom third of the boys in calculus BC may not be confident enough to choose calculus BC, while the boys of similar math achievement are confident enough.
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  • HamurtleHamurtle 2722 replies36 threads Senior Member
    I would agree with post #48-one of the girls from son’s high school who went to MIT could have easily been a history major-she was in the same AP Euro class as he was and was also in the school History Bowl team and was captain her senior year.

    Very well rounded student who was also accepted by CalTech, but was rejected by Stanford and waitlisted by Harvard, but that’s another story.
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  • Data10Data10 3280 replies11 threads Senior Member
    edited February 2019
    MIT sends three times as many acceptance offers to girls as to boys because yields among girls is very low.
    In 2017-18 women admitted to MIT had a 70% yield. This is a higher yield than occurred at Yale, Princeton, or just about any other highly selective college in the US besides Stanford and Harvard. It's not a "very low" yield. However, men generally do have a higher yield than women at MIT, Caltech, Mudd, and similar highly selective schools with a tech emphasis. Specific numbers from the latest CDS are below.

    MIT
    Men -- 5.2% Admitted, 81% yield
    Women -- 11.4% Admitted, 70% yield

    Caltech
    Men -- 4.9% Admitted, 48% yield
    Women -- 15.6% Admitted, 35% yield
    edited February 2019
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  • SatchelSFSatchelSF 1372 replies13 threads Senior Member
    edited February 2019
    We see the same thing: girls are better students in Calc BC/MVC and sometimes even Linear Algebra. Often higher class grades, although the advantage seems to be much more based on process grades (doing the homework) rather than test scores.

    Nevertheless, when going into contests at the state level (say, MAO state finals) they tend to underperform the boys quite dramatically, even from the exact same classroom (so, there are no school effects at play). Obviously, there are huge disparities in things like the AMC contests and Putnam, and these widen systematically with difficulty and required creativity.

    I think boys and girls have different characteristics in their approaches to learning the material and then abstracting and applying the knowledge in novel ways.
    edited February 2019
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  • SatchelSFSatchelSF 1372 replies13 threads Senior Member
    edited February 2019
    when girls start hearing the “math is for boys” messages
    Consider that there may be systematic differences in the way boys and girls respond to environmental conditions. Girls might hear a negative message and be discouraged while boys may look at it as a challenge. In my limited exposure to gifted math students, both boys and girls, I have been struck by their different approaches. Girls look for affirmation from their peers - "support" - while boys "compete" with each other.

    Sometimes they all seem to be speaking different languages. Boys often appear not to understand the issue as to whether they are "supported" or not. Females - sensitive to the issue to social belonging - intuit that boys must be getting their "affirmation" from the fact that there are a lot of males around them. Males - not looking for affirmation - might rather intuit the plethora of males as a competitive obstacle rather than a support structure (and that's not necessarily a bad thing if boys are inherently more competitive).

    Obviously, we are only talking about the margins here. There is of course plenty of overlap between boys and girls on most behavioral characteristics.
    edited February 2019
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  • 1NJParent1NJParent 1563 replies35 threads Senior Member
    edited February 2019
    The world is diverse, not just by gender or race, but also by natural abilities, skills in different tasks, etc. Some of these attributes become clear almost right after birth. We should respect this ultimate diversity of nature while confronting and eliminating discrimination of all kinds, rather than trying to enforce uniformity and diversity in the form of equal representation in every area based on a few physical attributes. If we don't, we will just impede the advancements in our society, and indeed of the entire human race.
    edited February 2019
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  • TanbikoTanbiko 368 replies2 threads Member
    "We are not culturally set up in this country to well support working parents. IMO we need to do a better job with maternity and paternity leave, along with childcare. This shouldn’t be a “women’s” issue, it’s society’s issue."

    I can assure you that in the societies where both men and women were expected to work with free kindergarten and medical care and paid medical leave for the mother whenever the child got sick and doctors doing house visits the ratio of boys to girls in the magnet math high schools was still 4-5:1.
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  • damon30damon30 1147 replies5 threads Senior Member
    The world is diverse, not just by gender or race, but also by natural abilities, skills in different tasks, etc.

    "Achievement gap" -> "diversity of achievement levels". Yeah, it sounds a lot nicer if you say it like that.
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  • SatchelSFSatchelSF 1372 replies13 threads Senior Member
    "We are not culturally set up in this country to well support working parents. IMO we need to do a better job with maternity and paternity leave, along with childcare. This shouldn’t be a “women’s” issue, it’s society’s issue."

    I just heard a lecture in which the speaker noted that the ratio of male to female engineers in Sweden is on the order of 20 to 1, and exactly reversed for nurses, 1 to 20. Can anyone confirm that?
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  • roycroftmomroycroftmom 3402 replies40 threads Senior Member
    Interestingly, there is an article by Margolis that you can find if you Google international female stem majors. It concludes that women in more gender equal countries with better social benefits are less likely to study stem, despite equal ability, because they feel able to pursue other alternatives. Many of the countries with the highest percentage of stem majors are less equal or developed, where there is a strong financial incentive to study stem. CMU also did a study of their international female CS students and why they succeeded when US women dropped out. Most had not heard that math was a make field until they came to the US.
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