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Math Is Harder for Girls. . . and also, it seems, for the New York Times.

Original post made by Sharon, Midtown, on Jul 29, 2008

The New York Times is determined to show that women are discriminated against in the sciences; too bad the facts say otherwise.

A new study has “found that girls perform as well as boys on standardized math tests,” claims a July 25 article by Tamar Lewin—thus, the underrepresentation of women on science faculties must result from bias.

Actually, the study, summarized in the July 25 issue of Science, shows something quite different: while boys’ and girls’ average scores are similar, boys outnumber girls among students in both the highest and the lowest score ranges.

Either the Times is deliberately concealing the results of the study or its reporter cannot understand the most basic science reporting.Web Link

Among white 11th-graders, there were twice as many boys as girls above the 99th percentile—that is, at the very top of the curve. (Asians, however, showed a very slight skew toward females above the 99th percentile, while there were too few Hispanics and blacks scoring above even the 95th percentile to compute their gender ratios.)

Far from raising the presumption of gender bias among schools and colleges, the Science study strengthens a competing hypothesis:

that the main drivers of success in scientific fields are aptitude and knowledge, in conjunction with personal choices about career and family that feminists refuse to acknowledge.

Comments (63)

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 29, 2008 at 6:13 pm


You need to use your own words or at least give proper attribution, not just a Web link to the original source.

Guess you didn't have one of those majors that required you to learn proper sourcing.

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Posted by Peter S
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 29, 2008 at 6:28 pm


Great link, the only good news about the NYT is that it is a dead tree that has not fallen down yet--- timber!!

Seriously, the distortion of science to fit the PC agenda is an outrage and all too common.

If you have the facts behind you argue the facts, if you have the law behind you argue the law, if you have neither the facts nor the law behind you then denigrate the character of the opposition.

The denigration of the the opposition is the only tactic left for the PC crowd and it is indeed a pathetic sight to see in Palo Alto.

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Posted by samuel
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 29, 2008 at 8:21 pm

Excellent report from Science, lousy account by the NYT

Lawrence Summers deserves an apology from Harvard.

This research completely vindicates his assertions.

It astounds me how people who opposes creationism so vehemently allow PC biased falsehoods to be taught in our schools which are as bad and worse science.

The quality of science debates about some topics, such as covered in the link, has declined to that in the Soviet Union under Stalin concerning genetics.

The PC fanatics are like the KGB.

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Posted by mary
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jul 29, 2008 at 8:34 pm

I like this quote from the link

"The federal No Child Left Behind act has produced a mad rush to the bottom, as many states crafted easier and easier reading and math tests to show their federal overseers how well their schools are doing.

The Science researchers analyzed the difficulty of those tests and found that virtually none required remotely complicated problem-solving abilities.
That a gender difference at the highest percentiles shows up on tests pitched to such an elementary level of knowledge and skill suggests that on truly challenging tests, the gender difference at the top end of the distribution will be even greater.

Indeed, between five and ten times as many boys as girls have been found to receive near-perfect scores on the math SATs among mathematically gifted adolescents, for example."

The denial of reality is not good science or policy.

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Posted by sourcing
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 29, 2008 at 8:38 pm

OP -

It's an interesting point. Is not a direct link to an original source the best attribution possible? It allows instant context and assurance that the source is correctly interpreted. Do you think a formal old-fashioned citation, with proper font type and style, author, date and name of publication, publisher, etc. is in some way better?

Have you been grading school papers or something?

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Posted by A 99-th percentiler
a resident of University South
on Jul 29, 2008 at 10:23 pm

Yet another case of biased editorializing bowdlerizing science to support its narrow bigotries. Ignorance may be excusable, but flouting it is not.

The fact is one cannot judge any distribution by its extreme values, particularly its outliers beyond the 99-percentile.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 30, 2008 at 1:16 am

Nope, correct sourcing means naming the source in the text. Sharon made no comments of his or her own. No sign unless you click the link that Sharon did a cut-and-paste and has, apparently, nothing to say.

What I found odd is that the article seemed to want it both ways. Standardized tests don't have complex enough problems by which to judge extremes, the writer tells us. The writer then turns around and uses SAT tests (and perfect scores on them) to bolster her argument that boys do better because of the greater number scoring 800. SATs don't feature complex problem solving, so even a perfect score isn't going to show the ability to solve complex problems--though certainly it might increase the likelihood.

Also interesting is the way the writer tossed aside Asian scores and focused on Caucasian since whites were the "vast majority" of test takers.

Well, as most of us know, there is a high percentage of Asian students at MIT, CalTech and other top schools. So, no, those are not the scores I would toss aside. And what does it say that a group that does perform well in math compared to other groups does have the girls outscoring the boys on average?

The last thing, of course, is that by the time you get to complex mathematician-level problem solving, a large number of social/culture factors will have come into play. It's hard to use testing at that level as a measure of innate ability. If you have a potential math genius who lives among Indians in the Amazon, he or she isn't going to be doing calculus.

I'm friends with a male math prodigy--yep, he's terrific at managing long sequential thought patterns--but he's also completely unreliable when it comes to anything practical and is very, very single-focused. To do advanced mathematics, you need the time, space and the permission to shut out the outside world. Women tend to be conditioned against this--it's that primary childcare giver thing.

The human brain's quite adaptable. I find it odd that people are so fixed that something as abstract as mathematical is innately sex-linked.

As for Larry Summers--he made a doofus speech--which just goes to show you that you can be bright in one area and a complete idiot in others.

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Posted by The Real Perspective
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2008 at 6:30 am

OP, I heard the whole speech by Larry Summers. I agreed with him. As a woman in science. He was hung by fools of my own gender. My physcian and engineering friends, female, agreed. We were embarrassed to be female at that time.

He was treated by my fellow females in a "typical" way of grabbing onto a few words and not listening to the whole thing and at least trying to understand what he was saying. I and a friend of mine wrote to him to support him, and I am sure many women did, but of course that never was reported. Poor guy was a whipping boy for the frustrations of life, of being born with the kind of brain which is unusual in our gender, making us little bit of misfits. Not his fault!

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Posted by The Real Perspective
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2008 at 6:33 am

Let me add the one unpalatable fact that those who are determined to prove sexism insist on ignoring: Every one of the women I know who stopped "growing" at a certain level in their profession did so in order to devote time to their kids.

Those who decided on no kids, or were fine with a live-in nanny spending 60 hours per week with them, went higher up the ladder.

Not sexism, choice.

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Posted by math whiz
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 30, 2008 at 9:04 am

Real Perspective, I lost my job a few months before my child was born when my firm downsized. All the other people they let go were parents of young children. Since then, I have observed discrimination against parents of young children, typically mothers. In one firm where I worked for several years, the women were never assigned to the choice projects or taken on marketing calls. That story is not uncommon.

When the choice is between battling sexism or investing more energy in your kids, it should be no surprise that many of us decide to stop banging our heads against that wall. By the way, I got an 800 on the math SAT and aced calculus, yet have repeatedly had to prove my quant skills to people who assume that all women are math dolts.

It's been 45 years since the Feminine Mystique was published and 44 years since the Civil Rights act of 1964, and yet it's still more valuable for a professional woman to be attractive than to have good math skills.

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Posted by Commentator
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 30, 2008 at 11:06 am

Rather than trying to scientifically meld the sexes into one, shouldn't we rather be glad that there are differences and even be attracted to the opposite sex precisely because of those differences. Otherwise, biologically speaking aside, we might as well all be the same sex.

Practically speaking, I had two parents who were both very good at math. My father could sit down and help me with my complex math and science homework, he was an engineer and measured everything meticulously and managed to make some wonderful built in cabinets in our home without any plans other than what he made himself, and understood how any machine in our home worked and was able to put it right when it needed fixing. My mother, who had never done any advanced math in school, was able to go grocery shopping and add up all the prices in her head and be right to the penny. She could estimate by looking if some left over fabric would be big enough to make me a dress, or a dress for my favorite doll (or both), and be able to bake the most delicious cake without weighing or measuring any of the ingredients, just estimating.

Now, ask my mother to mend the broken toaster, or my father to make pancake batter, and both would be hopelessly lost. You might say that this is a sexist statement, but in their respective roles, they were both wonderful at what they did. Given the right training I am sure that my mother could have used her skills wonderfully in a workplace environment and if she had understood just what math she was using when she could have solved many complex problems. My father had all the textbook learning, but no idea how to use his math skills in a practical day to day way, unless mending a toaster is practical.

But, their combined skills made our home run well and raising their children into well rounded, I hope, adults.

Men and women are different. In a classroom one group may learn better and be able to pass the test. But the other group may actually be better at applying the knowledge to useful applications. Being able to do complex calculus in a classroom setting and pass a test is one ability. A different ability but no less useful, is applying that knowledge to real life problems and coming up with a solution that just may change the world.

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Posted by another parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 30, 2008 at 2:51 pm

Math Whiz,

Yep, it sucks. You can no longer work 70 hours a week and go on a business trips at the drop of a hat that go along with those "choice" projects. After being told repeatedly that you're unable to stay late/work weekends because "I have to collect my child..." are you really surprised they stop asking to go on the marketing calls?

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Posted by yet another parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 30, 2008 at 3:20 pm

math whiz and those like her

There are many people out there willing to work 14 hour days 6 or even 7 days a week. They are the ones that are going to get the promotion and the choice projects. If you were an employer, you would do the same.

Whether women like it or not, they have to make a choice. If they have chosen kids, then their careers are going to suffer unless they can also employ a full time nanny, more than full time.

The only ones I know who have it both way, are those who have imported a grandparent or two to do the childcare. In these cases, the kids tend to grow up with strangers for parents and get most of their nurturing from the grandparents.

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Posted by sue
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 30, 2008 at 3:29 pm

Essentially in their careers women usually have to make a trade off between motherhood and the commitment it takes to climb the corporate ladder.

Looking around Palo Alto it is clear that most women choose motherhood and a wealthy husband.

When I was with a leading consulting company you had to work 70 hrs per week and travel 3/4 of the time to have any chance of making partner.

I did and made partner then decided I would rather be a mother and I am very happy with my decision as are all my peers who chose the same track.

Most of those who stayed on the treadmill believed they could delay children until their late 30s or even 40s as this was common feminist wisdom.
They ended up heartbroken after multiple and painful expensive fertility treatments that usually fail.
Non of the radical feminist tell young women that these late fertility do not work.
Some where lucky enough to adopt in time, but that is now much more difficult for older parents.

Men can climb the corp ladder and then marry a younger fertile woman, that may not sound fair but it is reality and will not change however much people scream, wail and carp.

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Posted by yet another parent
a resident of Escondido School
on Jul 30, 2008 at 4:39 pm

Let's not turn this thread into a lament about lost careers. The topic is about babies, girls, boys and math. Do boys have some innate ability to do math that most girls aren't born with? I don't see any conclusive evidence supporting that. Until we start raising our little girls and boys in a less sexist way, there are bound to be differences in their acquired abilities.

Is it possible that countries where girls are equal to or out-performing boys have higher expectations of females than we have here?

It's very revealing that so many people WANT to believe that boys are good at math and girls are generally not. If a study hints otherwise, it's met with great shock and resistance. Why? Is it possible that this attitude itself is contributing to the problem?

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Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2008 at 5:31 pm

All the studies show that boys and boys alone demonstrate the highest ability in complex mathematical reasoning, the sort that gets you into a science PhD program at a top school or a nobel prize.

Interestingly in some cases very high ability in math is associated with Aspergers Syndrome also an exclusively male trait.

The math ability part genetic and a result of exposure to male hormones at certain stages of development in the womb.

The problem is that some feminists want to deny that there are any sex related abilities, which flies in the face of nature. How many female quarterbacks are in the NFL?

These screaming harpies adopt a Stalinist approach to anyone who disagrees with their ideology,see what happened to Larry Summers( who actually has some of the mild autistic traits associated with math geniuses, they are not called nerds for nothing)

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Posted by $10?
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Jul 30, 2008 at 5:53 pm

Has anyone on this thread actually read the original article in Science magazine? You're all commenting on an article citing another article citing the original article.

If you'd like to read the original source material, cough up the $10:
Web Link

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Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2008 at 7:11 pm

I have read the original Science article 10.1126/science.1160364.

Their conclusion

" An unexpected finding was that state assessments designed to meet No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements fail to test complex problem-solving of the kind needed for success in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers, a lacuna that should be fixed"

They can call it "lacuna" any repected scientist would say what it means, that is, their study is---GARBAGE IN GARBAGE OUT---(GIGO)

I am surprised the the article passed peer review, it is another GIGO
"Diversity" paper

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Posted by yet another parent
a resident of Escondido School
on Jul 30, 2008 at 7:21 pm

You can read a two-page summary of the report - written by the study's authors - for free here Web Link.

The intro is worth noting: "Boys and girls have similar psychological traits and cognitive abilities; thus, a focus on factors other than gender is needed to help girls persist in mathematical and scientific career tracks."

The supporting research Web Link is at least as interesting and quite readable; it addresses some of the issues people raised here and in the other thread.

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Posted by Always Check Your Sources
a resident of another community
on Jul 31, 2008 at 12:49 am

Back to the article that Sharon cited to start this post - note at the bottom of it about the author:
"Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor of City Journal and the John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Her latest book, coauthored with Victor Davis Hanson and Steven Malanga, is The Immigration Solution."

Well let's see now:

The John Olin Foundation funds conservative think tanks and Victor Davis Hanson is holed up in one the most notorious of them - Hoover Institute at Stanford (you can read his drivel, er, commentary, in the Chronicle from time to time). The Manhattan Institute itself is a "free market think tank" - libertarian/conservative. From

The Manhattan Institute (MI) is a right-wing 501(c)(3) non-profit think tank founded in 1978 by William J. Casey, who later became President Ronald Reagan's CIA director.[1]

"The Manhattan Institute concerns itself with such things as 'welfare reform' (dismantling social programs), 'faith-based initiatives' (blurring the distinction between church and state), and 'education reform' (destroying public education)," Kurt Nimmo wrote October 10, 2002, in CounterPunch.[3]

Thus, this is just another "political spin" article that can (and should) be ignored.

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Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 31, 2008 at 4:57 am

Heaven forfend that the people be exposed to any questioning the correct view.

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Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 31, 2008 at 10:06 am

'" An unexpected finding was that state assessments designed to meet No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements fail to test complex problem-solving of the kind needed for success in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers, a lacuna that should be fixed"'

This finding should not be unexpected. The shortcomings of politically-motivated "tests" like the NCLB are too numerous to list. However, judging by this blog, the overwhelming majority of the population could not even comprehend the kind of questions called for, let alone answer them. The omission is not so much a lacuna as an act of mercy.

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Posted by Too subtle
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 31, 2008 at 11:04 am

If you can't make sensible comments or contributions on the content or merits of the study, attack the person whose name is associated with the chair awarded to the researcher.

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Posted by math goddess
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 31, 2008 at 11:23 am

Act of mercy for whom? People like Engineer will still assume that women have inferior math ability (and use whatever flawed studies they prefer to buttress their arguments) and women with outstanding math skills will be backburnered in favor of their male counterparts and encouraged to go into kindergarten teaching or something else useful.

I attended an all-women's college where the professors discouraged women from pursuing math as a career because of bias against women mathematicians.

By choosing your questions judiciously, you can devise tests that produce whatever results you want to see (women = men, women > men, men > women). So the "average" woman may indeed score lower than the "average" man on tests in certain areas. The problem with using statistics to govern policy is that too many talented women are not given a chance to demonstrate their math prowess because of assumptions that people make when they rely on statistics.

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Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 31, 2008 at 11:54 am

An act of mercy to the general populace, which is about evenly distributed between females and males. Math goddess may be a math whiz but she apparently cannot read text very well. Nowhere have I mentioned gender, let alone stated or even implied, that females are inferior (or superior) in any way to males.

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Posted by 1+1
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 31, 2008 at 12:44 pm

Always Check Your Sources, a resident of another community

So any scientific criticism of PC propaganda is the product of the vast right wing conspiracy? that was billarys line from ages ago.

as a previous poster said
"If you have the facts behind you argue the facts, if you have the law behind you argue the law, if you have neither the facts nor the law behind you then denigrate the character of the opposition."

The fact is the "lacuna" in the Science article undermines the credibility of the whole paper.
I am surprised that an journal of such repute would publish such as shoddy paper.

I am glad the fraud was caught and nipped in the bud by Heather Mac Donald a contributing editor of City Journal and the John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

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Posted by Curious
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 31, 2008 at 12:54 pm

Looks like nobody complains about girls having higher scores on most (all?) verbal tests... I guess it's ok for boys/men to be inferior to us?

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Posted by 1+1
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 31, 2008 at 2:10 pm


In the interest of keeping this dialog evidence based please provide data, links etc to support your claim/ claims


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Posted by Math Olympian
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 31, 2008 at 2:41 pm

"1+1" : There is a sign error in your signature.

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Posted by tooDifficult
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 31, 2008 at 2:57 pm

1+1, try here: Web Link

Need any more help?

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Posted by sue
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 31, 2008 at 3:38 pm


Thanks, so there IS evidence for different capabilities between boys and girls. Match and Set.

Vive La Differance

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Posted by Shrinking violets?
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 31, 2008 at 5:59 pm

math goddess,

So, did the students at your all-women's college have so little faith in their own abilities, or so little tenacity or ambition that they allowed themselves to be diverted from their goals of pursuing math careers because the professors said that they would encounter bias against women in that field?

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Posted by math g
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 31, 2008 at 6:33 pm

Shrinking, it's not about ambition or ability, it's about being pragmatic. My fellow students were mostly very bright, multi-talented women with a lot of options. Many were hard driving and determined to succeed. If you were trying to figure out whether you would rather have a brilliant professional career in law, medicine, business, or the like, or spend your work life fighting stereotypes and having to prove, repeatedly, that you could do the work just as well as your male colleagues -- well, you'd have to be kind of masochistic to take the latter path. Also bear in mind that many of our professors were women with PhDs in math who were speaking from experience.

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Posted by anon.
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 31, 2008 at 7:53 pm

I don't care what the science article says. I'm a woman in science who scored in the 98th percentile of math SAT without studying. Girls are just as good at math as boys, the problem is that teachers favor boys in jr high, high school, and college math/science courses. Boys are encouraged more to acheive in careers at all levels of schooling.

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Posted by stop spreading the bias
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 31, 2008 at 7:57 pm

math aren't helping the way women are viewed. I can't imagine giving up my dream because someone tells me it might be hard. you are basically supporting the bias against women by proclaiming our wimphood.

It is a pity that you went to such a school. Even in the south where I was, women who wanted to go into engineering school, did. And I am talking 30 years ago.

I believe 50 years ago having problems, but being able to go into chemical engineering as a woman, and getting a PhD., was no problem..even in the south.

so, something was wrong with your school, or you are much older than I.

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Posted by anon.
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 31, 2008 at 7:58 pm

and another comment - even my dad (who has phd in science) discouraged me because he said women with pHds don't do as well as men. its too hard for them. He wanted me to study computer science (back in the 80s) because women could be promoted in that area. I believe men and teachers (male/female) do not encourage or support females enough or at least treat the females as equals to males.

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Posted by anon.
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 31, 2008 at 8:01 pm

to stop
you are obviously male and have never had anyone tell you that something is too hard. Females are faced with this ALL the time. I've had people say "well how often will you actually mountain bike?" and "you aren't going to make it to the top of the peak" and "you aren't really going to run a half marathon" etc etc.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 31, 2008 at 9:01 pm

Well, well, it's been busy here.


Real Perspective,

"Typical"--soundbite grabbing is hardly unique to women. What a bizarre notion. However, in this case, the use of a poorly thought-out anecdote was telling.

As are your notions as to what is "sexism"--fact is, men can have kids *and* continue their careers, including those of the 70-hour ilk. It is expected, it is socially supported. We are very critical of women who do that--as witness the thread about the mom returning to work who wanted to know if the salary asked by a potential nanny was too high. Women make a choice--a huge one--that men are spared.

I mean, we don't chastize male CEOs for ignoring their kids for the sake of their careers. It's women, not men, who receive that kind of criticism on their parenting.

Men grow up thinking they can shoot for the moon AND have a wife and kids. It's a rare woman who's got the kind of support that makes it doable. I've known a couple of them--the kids are fine, by the way. And yeah, the grandparents were around and the husbands had non-corporate careers. Make that jobs.

And I think it's actually harder now than it was 25 years ago. I think the expectations of parenting are higher and the social support in many places has dropped.

You can call it reality, sexism, just-the-way-things-are, or whatever--but as long as things are that way they have to be factored in as to why women don't follow the same career arc as their male colleagues.


The sexes are far more alike than they are different biologically. Thus the variety of Intersexes and people who are XY females. The division is very important to us for many reasons so we tend to emphasize the differences more than the similarities.


You're not impressing me here. The "Lacuna" of the study limits it, but it does not invalidate it. What the study establishes is that girls do as well in math through high school. This, among other things, gives us an idea of what's going on with the vast majority of children--what's going on at the extremes doesn't change what's going on with the overall *averages* and the vast majority (instead of the 1 percent of 1 percent)of kids.

As I noted, the critique you posted is internally inconsistent--using standardized tests to make its point while complaining about the use of those exact same standardized tests. It's a logical flaw.

And Asperger's is NOT "exclusively" male. The ratio's about 4:1 male to female in terms of diagnosis, though many more boys are sent in for diagnoses than are girls. It's also a more limiting condition than you seem to think it is. It's not required for being a mathematical genius. The classic cases of autistic math prodigies seem to combine an ability to do certain algorithms extremely rapidly with an inability to master other basic concepts. Asperger's, of course, is less limited, but the conditions on the autism spectrum, in general, don't facilitate creative thinking.

Stop Spreading,

Thirty years ago was the late 70s, so yeah, doors were open. Fifty years ago? Not only were women actively discouraged from professional schools and graduate programs, there were quotas that severely limited the number of women allowed into graduate programs--Berkeley's law school (yeah, Berkeley) limited its women admissions to around 5 percent of the total class. Newspaper articles were written about the women law-school graduates because they were considered such a freak show.

Women weren't allowed into most business schools. (Or the Ivy League for that matter.)

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Posted by reward the behavior you wish to see
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 31, 2008 at 9:30 pm

If you want to encourage women to pursue math, why not donate a small fraction of your vast fortune to set up a well staffed child care center in the math building: give math students with children free tuition, housing, stipend and daycare as long as they maintain a 3.0 average and are making progress toward their math degree.

--Women wouldn't have to choose between having children and completing their schooling.
--Smart women who might not otherwise enroll in the math program would be drawn to it.
--Women in the program would be less likely to leave until after they had completed a degree and raised their earning power in the outside world.
--Maybe more smart math women would have kids.
--Math daddies would benefit, too.

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Posted by ha-ha...
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 31, 2008 at 10:01 pm

anon cracks me up, thinking I am "obviously a man"...

a male in menopause!!

women, you gotta stop thinking everyone's experience is the same as your own, and extrapolating erroneous conclusions!

OP: Yes, late 70s is right. On the cusp between "every woman needs a man" and "men are to women like bicycles are to fish"..(paraphrasing greatly). Raised by a father who thought the only reason for a girl to go to college was to get a good man, went into college knowing I was going to be fully independent financially. A strange time, but whining never helped anyone, and to hear women still whining is very discouraging.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 31, 2008 at 10:59 pm


I suppose whining is in the ear of the beholder. I find the fussing over this study kind of whiny. To me, it was sort of--hey, good news, there's more parity in math. To then read stuff about how this couldn't really be true because--well, who knows what the because is, other than some sort of insistance on boys having some in-born mathematical advantage.

I don't see why it's upsetting to think girls could do well in math. Or that sometimes people lose jobs because they stick feet in their mouths. The latter happens on both sides of the spectrum. The former doesn't mean guys can no longer be math nerds.

I think the "whining" of the women is the result of the extremely mixed message we get sent--there's this huge emphasis in our culture on individual achievement--and, then, whoosh, you switch over into the motherhood realm and you're supposed to take the backseat to everyone else's needs, except when you're driving the carpool to soccer practice, of course.

Instead of being praised for this, mothers tend to be criticized coming and going--you can never-ever please everybody.

In some ways, I don't think we prepare women for the reality of motherhood. I sometimes see first-time mothers just sort of wandering around in shock trying to figure out why they're in sweats.

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Posted by Please read carefully before commenting
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jul 31, 2008 at 11:28 pm


Do you ever actually read other people's posts carefully and completely? In my observation, you are consistently guilty of "soundbite grabbing" (as you put it).

Stop Spreading the Bias wrote that she got her chemical engineering PhD 30 years ago. She indicated that she believed that, yes, perhaps 50 years ago women struggled, but that there was no problem for women in engineering school when she went through. Based on her experience, she commented that either Math Goddess's school had issues or Math Goddess had gone to college a lot earlier than Stop Spreading had, that is to say, in a time when women would have faced more obstacles.

You responded to Stop Spreading the Bias by giving a lecture about how bad it was for women 50 years ago, as if Stop Spreading the Bias had somehow indicated that purusing an engineering degree in the 50's was a cake walk for women.

Please take the time to carefully read what other people have written before you jump in and blast them with your own pedantic remarks.

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Posted by math g
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 1, 2008 at 12:24 am

I remember in grade school having a teacher who actually said "girls are better than boys at math until high school, and then the boys pull way ahead." Maybe teachers aren't crass enough to say that now, but I (a parent with a young son) still see much more nurturing/encouragement of boys than girls when it comes to math.

So maybe the environment is better than it was in the 70s and 80s (and my engineering education experience was much more negative than Stop Spreading's, but I was in school in New England, which may have been behind the curve) but there are still many subtle ways to let girls know that the math welcome mat is not out there for them. I think about the fact that quite a few of my classmates from that era are now teaching math or engineering or working as engineers--they may be polite to women but have their attitudes truly changed? Given the tenor of some comments on this thread, I'd say that there are still many men and women who don't believe girls can handle complex math.

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Posted by scapegoat
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 1, 2008 at 7:22 am

OP, I don't know what your family situation is but, if you are married, don't you discuss family decisions with your spouse? If you have kids, didn't you discuss who would be the main carer and who would continue to work? If time with your family is important to you, didn't you discuss the downside to your career because you wanted to spend more time with them?

You claim that men can "have it all". No, they are making the same decision as women do. Have a career vs. time with the family. You can't call working 70 hours a week and traveling 3 weeks out of 4 "having it all". A choice has been made.

Who are you blaming here? If you want a high powered career and family, the only person holding you back is your spouse.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 1, 2008 at 11:10 am

Please read,

Actually, giving the missing words in Stop Spreading's post, it was unclear what point she was making. Look at it again.

"I believe 50 years ago having problems, but being able to go into chemical engineering as a woman, and getting a PhD., was no problem..even in the south."

It doesn't say that 30 years ago it was no problem--it's completely muddled. Nor, for that matter, does the poster say that she got her Ph.D. in chemical engineering. That may well be what she meant, but it's not actually what she wrote.

The way it's written, it seems to mean that there were problems 50 years ago, but even in the South getting a Ph.D. in chemical engineering was no problem--at that time. There is no reference to 30 years ago in the entire paragraph.

So I responded as well as I could, given the lack of clarity. I agreed 30 years ago it was not an issue and expanded upon why 50 years ago it was--and how severe an issue it was.

I do read carefully. I wish people would *write* carefully--though I prefer not having to point out the issues with Stop Spreading's post. I assume it was written quickly and people drop words and transitions when that happens. (And what you think of as "pedantic" is my attempt to be very, very clear.)

math g, a mathematically talented friend of mine did fun into girls-shouldn't-do-calculus at her high school in the Midwest. This was in the early '80s. Attitudes can change slowly even after official barriers were down.


What I wrote is not, in fact, about my personal situation. It's an observation of what happens in our society.

And, yes, having a high-powered career and a family is having it all--maybe not all the time, but it's nothing like the situation with women, where people seem to have no compunction telling a woman that she shouldn't have kids unless she stays home with them. We're willing to say it's okay for men to climb the career ladder and still have kids.

Is it ideal for families? No. The expansion of the work week is a big social problem. My point is more general: when men choose careers they don't think about whether they're going to have to balance it with having a family. Women do--and it enters into their career decisions quite early.

It's not about scapegoating--it's about why various things happen. My point in the previous post was about why there still seemed to be "whining". As Americans we're taught to focus on individual achievement and work. The switch into the motherhood role is a real shock for a lot of women as a result.

Are these women making choices to stay home with the kids? Of course. Are there greater factors that affect what choices and how these choices are made? Of course.

And that's my point.

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Posted by Stay at home mom
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 1, 2008 at 11:11 am

I'm sorry to digress from the boy/girl math discussion for a moment, but I have to comment on the following:

"fact is, men can have kids *and* continue their careers"

The fact is that if men have kids they *must* continue their careers, in most families. Modern women have the luxury of choosing the career track or the mommy track. But it's rare that this choice is offered to men. If the mother chooses to stay at home, the father has no choice, he must be the bread winner.

This puts incredible pressure on men, that many women take for granted.

When my husband's company downsized several years ago, my husband was so concerned about providing security for our family that he took another position almost immediately at a drop in salary, just to ensure that there was a steady flow of income. This was despite the fact that we had built up an emergency cash reserve over the years that would have enabled him to keep looking for more than a year.

He did keep looking for over a year, and eventually found something that was a step up the ladder from even his original position. However, he felt so compelled to provide security for the family that he suffered through a year at a soul-sucking awful company rather than use up our cash reserve by job-seeking while unemployed.

You may think that this is a case of one particular man with "security issues", but I don't think so. Even in this day and age I think the vast majority of men with families feel enormous pressure to be the bread winner and don't have the luxury of choosing not to be.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 1, 2008 at 11:15 am

Stay at home mom,

What you say is completely legit and the flip side of the issue. Part of the accepted definition of being a good father is being a "good provider".

In some sense, we're talking about the continuation of traditional male/female roles.

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Posted by Girls are smarter? Maybe.
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 1, 2008 at 12:40 pm

I recently read an article claiming a new study shows there is no in-born gap between boys and girls in math, and that if we see a gap it is due to culture (I think NYT. Anyone see that? weblink?).

Specifically, it said that the more egalitarian the society, the better the girls scored in math. In places like Scandinavia, the gap does not exist. (The exception was spatial reasoning, which apparently is aided by testosterone.)

However, the number of women pursuing careers in fields like math and engineering is still much lower in those societies than the number of men because they opted for other fields (medicine, etc.). (Personally, I assume it's because the chances of finding a suitable mate amongst the geeks is much lower.)

What remains constant across societies is that girls' higher aptitude for language.

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Posted by m goddess
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 1, 2008 at 1:10 pm

Am I the only woman on this board who has been asked illegal questions by prospective employers? Unless the workforce has changed a lot in the last five years (since I last looked for a job) people seem to want to know about a woman's family situation. I had a man tell me that he didn't want to hire a woman because the last woman he'd hired had left when her boyfriend got a new job (of course, the boyfriend was a man and he had also left his job, but never mind that). I had a woman exec tell me she felt a man would be better in the position, even though it was an executive level job that should have been gender neutral (vs, say, a job modeling men's speedos).

Yes, these questions are illegal, but it's one person's word against another.

My own observation is that there is still way too much stereotyping going on, even with recent college graduates entering the workforce. A young man is assessed at face value -- "who is he, and what can he do?" -- whereas a young woman is viewed through a lens that is distorted by the employer's own assumptions about what women of her age/background/marital status should or shouldn't be doing.

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Posted by mary
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 1, 2008 at 2:09 pm

The world is not fair, tall men with deep voices earn more, get elected and have a greater choice of women.

Attractive women earn more, get elected, and have a greater choice of potential husbands.

Attractive children get more attention form their parents and teachers and develop more self confidence.

All these traits are genetic and historically linked to evolution,

The beautiful/symmetrical will inherit the earth and always have.

Women are more verbal, men are more mathematical and mechanical.

All attempts at social engineering fail, we should accept the reality of natural selection and stop whinning.

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Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 1, 2008 at 2:19 pm

Any society that fails to fully utilize the full capabilities of all its members is lessened thereof. Imagine the major leagues with no black players, the military with no Hispanics, Hollywood with no Jews, and you are imagining the majority of Third World countries. A deep South welder told me that the unions there desegregated when the men realized management kept wages down with the threat to hire N*****s for a dollar less.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 1, 2008 at 2:45 pm


Why on earth are you assuming that all of this is genetic? It's not.

Take good looks. You will look better if you maintain good health and a healthy weight. You will look better if you develop an eye as to how to present yourself attractively. Look at pictures of Charlize Theron in various roles to see just how much presentation and weight affect looks.

Even height, which has a strong genetic component, has a strong environmental component. Historically, the Dutch were short. They're now the tallest people in Europe. Environment, not genetics.

Simplistic genetic determinism is a cop-out. I, for one, am not about discourage or discount the many brilliant male writers just because girls outscore boys verbally.

Even the case of spatial reasoning isn't cut and dried. Boys do better than girls, but it's a case where about 50 percent of boys do well on spatial reasoning tests and so do *25* percent of the girls.

I think I'm with Walter here. I'd like to see people get the opportunities to do well. And I think girls doing better in math is a cause to celebrate. Now I'd like to see a way to reach the more at-risk boys.

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Posted by Jane
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 1, 2008 at 2:54 pm

I see there are still some communists lurking in Palo Alto, despite Churchill warning that anyone who is not a communists before 25 yrs of age has no heart.

Anyone who is a communist after age 25 yrs has no HEAD.

From Marx

From each according to his ability, to each according to his need

"From each according to his ability, to each according to his need (or needs) is a slogan popularized by Karl Marx in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program.
The phrase summarizes the principles that, under a communist system, every person should contribute to society to the best of their ability and consume from society in proportion to their needs, regardless of how much they have contributed.

In the Marxist view, such an arrangement will be made possible by the abundance of goods and services that a developed communist society will produce; the idea is that there will be enough to satisfy everyone's needs".Web Link

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Posted by scapegoat
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 1, 2008 at 4:07 pm

OP, "My point is more general: when men choose careers they don't think about whether they're going to have to balance it with having a family."

Men do have to choose between a career and being the main carer. Even your replies don't consider being a stay-at-home dad as an option for men. How sexist is that.

My point remains, it comes down to spousal support. Society isn't dictating your choices. You, as a couple, are. As long as you support each others decisions, you can ignore those snide remarks to the working mother or stay-at-home dad.

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Posted by mary
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 1, 2008 at 4:22 pm

re the beautiful/symmetrical will inherit the earth is true

Modern research suggests that people whose facial features are symmetric and proportioned according to the golden ratio are considered more attractive than those whose faces are not.

There is evidence that a preference for beautiful faces emerges early in child development, and that the standards of attractiveness are similar across different genders and cultures.

Researchers have found that good looking students get higher grades from their teachers than students with an ordinary appearance.

Furthermore, attractive patients receive more personalized care from their doctors.

Studies have even shown that handsome criminals receive lighter sentences than less attractive convicts.

How much money a person earns may also be influenced by physical beauty.

One study found that people low in physical attractiveness earn 5 to 10 percent less than ordinary looking people,

who in turn earn 3 to 8 percent less than those who are considered good looking.Web Link

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 1, 2008 at 6:11 pm


You wrote:
"you can ignore those snide remarks to the working mother or stay-at-home dad"

In other words, these options are not readily accepted. Yes, exactly. There's a systemic issue here. And not everyone can be safely cocooned from it.


And you think there's no difference in childhood environments? You're showing that you don't actually understand what genetics is or how genetics and environment interact.

The cross-cultural standards for beauty tend to have a bearing on health and fertility--i.e. hip/waist ratios in women, though that standard is not universal.

Good diet means good skin, good hair, good body weight. Reasonable amount of exercise means strength endurance and what we perceive as an attractive physique.

The "universal" standards tend to be a preference for young, healthy people with relatively symetrical features (a sign, among other things, of good fetal development.)

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Posted by USA
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 1, 2008 at 7:41 pm

The NYT is run by girls.

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Posted by Observer
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 1, 2008 at 10:02 pm

A couple of observations about this topic:

1) If you step back from the women faculty debate and look to women earning entry-level BS degrees, women are well-represented in math, chemistry and biology and the corresponding sub-fields in engineering, indicating that they are just as capable as their male counterparts. Thus, if women are not well-respresented as faculty in those specific areas, something else is obviously coming into play.

2) On the other hand, when it comes to the other main branch of science - physics - and the corresponding fields of mechanical and electrical engineering, there are hardly any women earning BS degrees. Given that women are achieving in the other fields, it seems reasonable to conclude that it's not a matter of general capability, but rather something else at work - a general lack of interest in phsyics as subject matter (I myself couldn't stand physics, but liked both biology and chemistry) or being dissuaded from pursing the subject matter in favor of something else.

3) An interesting personal observation about scientists and engineers (gathered from many years of working with a wide variety of them) that well might come into play: The physics/ME/EE folks are generally much more politically and socially conservative than both the chemists/chem engineers and especially the biologists/bio engineers. Thus, the old boys network and Neanderthal-type views of women remain much more entrenched in physics/ME/EE and that probably has a significant effect on discouraging women from undertaking such pursuits.

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Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 2, 2008 at 4:08 am

"Furthermore, attractive patients receive more personalized care from their doctors."
I am coyote ugly, but my treatment my last several hospitalizations could not have been better.

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Posted by trudy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 2, 2008 at 4:44 am

Re: "Do boys have some innate ability to do math that most girls aren't born with? "

No. Otherwise I wouldn't be in the 99% percentile in math and science.

But are -all- women discriminated against? For sure. Because the assumption is that we're all going to have babies and drop out for at least some time. Hell, I got asked about my (non-existent) "marriage plans" when I interviewed at SRI years ago.

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Posted by something odd, trudy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 2, 2008 at 10:02 am

You are "in the top 99% in math and science" but indicate that a single counterexample is enough to disprove "boys have some innate ability to do math that most girls aren't born with."

I'm old. Born into a world where the outcome of this discussion is predetermined. I'm open minded enough to attend to facts, listen to arguments, explanations and various interpretations. But do the best in math and science no longer respect logical reasoning?

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Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 2, 2008 at 5:00 pm

The statement you made defies logic.

The question posed is: "Do boys have some innate ability to do math that most girls aren't born with? "

That statement would infer that MOST girls do not have the same math abilities as boys. It does not infer that ALL Boys have more math ability than ANY girls.

So the fact that you are 99 percentile does not disprove that statement. The fact that it does not disprove the statement also does not mean it is proved, merely that you have not made a valid argument to discredit or disprove the statement.

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Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 2, 2008 at 8:17 pm

Trudy, I love you. Mike, of COURSE her statement defies logic - she's a girl!

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