Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Women Leave Math and Science for a More Meaningful Life

There are many women who start math and science careers - almost as many as men. There are many programs designed to draw women to math and science careers, including paying them more, providing mentors, providing family support, giving faster promotions, and giving high status. Many women at the highest levels of math and science in the younger generations report that the men in their lives, colleagues as well as family, are very supportive of their careers. The world has changed for women in math and science.

Yet women also leave math and science careers 2.8 times more than men do. Women in math and science are 13 times more likely to leave the workforce altogether. They are not leaving for higher-paying jobs -- they have the highest-paying jobs already. And women are more likely than men to leave math and science careers even if they do not have children.

Susan Pinker reports that even women who are very good at math and science are likely to leave good jobs because they want to do work that they find more meaningful. And the more freedom that women have to choose, the more likely they are to leave demanding math and science careers to work with people, for a more immediate social good, and part time.

Women in general are likely to use financial freedom to work less, but on things they value more. Men, by contrast, are more likely to seek higher pay and more responsibility for their own sake. Creating a male-model career path for women has not resulted in women pursuing those careers like men. With ability, money, and freedom, women pursue careers more like women.


Michael Kruse said...

Should the first sentence of the last paragraph have the word "not" inserted?

"Women in general are likely to use financial freedom [not] to work less, but on things they value more."

Great series!

Alan B. said...

I believe he meant it just as stated.

Women are using financial freedom to work in fields that hold personal value to them and work fewer hours.

Gruntled said...

Alan is right

Jon Kay said...

That seems all wrong to me, or at least to miss a fundamental point or three.

Only a tiny proportion of of ENGINEERS are women, certainly. But most of the great mathematicians in my era are women. And, there's more of a balance or, even female advantage in fields like physics and astronomy and biology.

True, by far most women stay away from science and engineering as professions, but so do by far most men.

Thrasymachus said...

Jon Kay:

To which era do you belong? There has NEVER been a time when "most of the great mathematicians are women." To date, no woman has ever won the Fields medal, the highest distinction available to mathematicians. Only two women (half a century apart) have won the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Gruntled said...

Has there been a massive revolution in math? This would certainly be the first I had heard of it. Physics and chemistry are still majority men at the B.S. level; only biology has a female majority, which disappears at the Ph.D. plus ten years level of practice.