Women in Science: Biological Factors Should Not be Ignored
20 Pages Posted: 24 Jan 2006
Harvard President Lawrence Summers was repeatedly denounced for suggesting that innate sex differences might be causally related to the scarcity of women in certain scientific fields. Yet data from a variety of fields reveal that Summers's tentative suggestion could legitimately have been stated with much greater force. Sex differences exist in mathematical, spatial, and verbal abilities; "people versus thing orientation;" competitiveness; dominance-seeking; risk preference; and nurturance. These differences appear to be at least in part products of different selective pressures acting on the sexes during our evolutionary history and are proximately mediated by sex hormones acting primarily during fetal development and at and after puberty.
Cognitive and temperamental sex differences appear to play a substantial role in observed workplace outcomes. The more spatial, mathematical, and abstract a field, the lower the frequency of women tends to be. Moreover, fields in which women are scarce tend to have the lowest social dimension, while those attracting larger numbers of women tend to have higher social content. An analysis that takes into account biological sex differences provides a richer and more plausible account of occupational distributions than one that assumes that no such differences exist.
Keywords: women, science, sex differences, biology
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation