Randal Olson has been using statistics garnered from NCES 2013 Digest of Education Statistics to look at gender disparities in different study fields. Speaking about this study on his blog, Olson wrote:
One oft-cited problem with Computer Science is its glaring gender disparity: In a given Computer Science class, men will outnumber women as much as 8 to 2 (20% women). This stands in stark contrast to most other college majors, which have women outnumbering men 3 to 2 on average (60% women). This observation made me wonder: Are other STEM majors suffering the same gender disparity?
Taking into account the stereotypical-but-ubiquitous view that “boys likes sciences, girls like humanities”, you may expect the STEM subjects to weighted heavily towards males; but this isn’t the case. 40-45% of recipients of degrees in Maths, Statistics and Physical Sciences were female, very close to a total balance between genders.
However, the story changes somewhat when we consider engineering and technology in isolation. Less than 20% of Computer Science and Engineering degrees in 2012 were conferred to women, and the ratio of women in Computer Science has actually been declining since the millennium. As Olson points out, Computer Science and Engineering degrees account for less than 10% of all degrees conferred in the U.S. for the past decade, whilst the demand for graduates with these skills continues to rise sharply. Olson’s proposed solution:
Provided that far more women attend college than men, it seems the best way to meet the U.S.’s growing need for skilled programmers and engineers is to focus on recruiting more women — of any race or ethnicity — into Computer Science and Engineering majors. The big question, of course, is “How?” With the constant issues of subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) discrimination against women in these male-dominated majors, we have quite a tough task on our hands.
Let’s hope the gender balance- and the balance between supply and demand for computer scientists- approaches an equilibrium in the coming years.
(Image credit: Randal Olson)
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