Women’s progress in education

Posted: October 17th, 2013





Women’s progress in education

In the early 19th century, the gap in the education levels between men and women were apparent, but over the years, it has significantly reduced. Girls, however, lag behind in the study of mathematics and pure sciences as compared to their male counterparts. However, they perform above average when it comes to writing and reading as well as other art subjects within the academic field. The transformation of this academic excellence by females within the marketplace brings about another challenge: why are females less employed in science-related professions such as engineering. It is essential to investigate the cause of these low turnouts among females. Moreover, it is pertinent to assess the achievements made by females in science and engineering and the impact of social and economic factors in determining their career choices.

Over a period of fifty years, women have made dramatic achievements in science. Currently, women receive 52% of PhDs in the life sciences, 57% in social sciences and 71% in psychology. However, within these universities and institutions of learning, women’s growth is slow especially in the mathematic and science fields. Studies revealed that only about 15% of higher institutions of learning boast of a female full professor in math or science departments (Ceci & Williams 245). As women progressed through their careers in science, they became less satisfied as the jobs became more difficult. Research done in various parts of the world, for instance, in The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in South Africa, revealed that female scientists were less likely advanced compared to men, were given shorter contracts and were short-listed for fewer awards (Sheffield 24).

The case for women’s small presence in science has been addressed by other scholars with conflicting outcomes. Most of the reports produced by these studies revolve around sex discrimination during the selection, interview and hiring periods. These claims are no longer valid within the contemporary world where merit takes center stage in the employment of staff. Although in non-math areas, discrimination against women was rampant; this was put down as insufficient to cause such a large dip in the numbers of women. Ceci and Williams in their article Understanding current causes of women’s under representation in science is one of the few reports on studies into women that produced substantial outcomes (Ceci & Williams 245).

Academic abilities of women in science subjects

            The academic ability of females at their tender ages while still in high schools reveals a higher ability to perform well in science-related subjects such as physics and mathematics compared to boys. Women were also highly likely to make the transition to college after completion of high school, with their likeliness being rated at 42% compared to men’s 36%. It has been observed for instance within Europe, the highest number of female professors are in social sciences (Kabeer 197). This tend is sharply reversed in college with females exhibiting a higher drop out rate after completing one year. The similarities that were present in the mathematics courses among boys and girls tend to disappear after high schools. In college, most women choose to major in non-math courses such as English, foreign languages and health sciences. At the graduate levels, these statistics are expounded even more with fewer women having the option of selecting science or mathematical courses. Fields such as engineering have exhibited immense gaps in the gender balance as women at the masters level preferred to earn degrees in education and health than in engineering.

Preferences and choices

Ceci and Williams proposed three probable causative factors that were responsible for the under representation of women within the fields of science, mathematics and technology: career expectations, lifestyles and family formation and children. Some of these factors are decided upon early in life especially during adolescence. The primary factors in women’s under representation are directly left to the individual’s free will, that is, their choices and preferences. At this young age, women choose not to pursue math-related fields as few girls desire to be engineers or technicians and instead prefer to be doctors and psychologists. These decisions by girls at the school levels are made even though girls are shown to have higher grades in sciences than boys.

At the higher levels of educations, science-oriented females tend to prefer non-science fields such as law and other social sciences. Among women who complete their majors, very few apply for official positions as compared to their male counterparts. The physical differences between men and women are partly to blame for these skewed figures. The tenure system within the academic field demands that scholars provide their best skills and abilities towards developing science. When women make the choice to abandon full time careers in order to raise children, it comes as a preference by the female individual and not discrimination by other stakeholders.

Majority of women graduates expressed a wish to pursue industrial careers rather than the mainstream academic paths, as they are compatible with raising families. Among women who aspire academic careers, most prefer small jobs as teachers rather than taking up research jobs at universities. The devaluation of women’s scientific achievements is widespread and takes on many forms such as ignoring the contribution by women and crediting the male partners in the research. Women are also disregarded within the work environment in the way in which their contributions are downplayed by their male partners. Conferences, debates and other events act as possible functions that discourage women from excelling in science and engineering.

Fertility and home balancing issues

            This challenge is exaggerated within pure math fields, as the number of women is small. The amount of attrition that occurs at each stage of education from high school to undergraduate to postgraduate is partly to blame for the reduction in the number of females at the higher levels. There are also significant differences in the number of hours worked as well as the lifestyle preferences between men and women. The tenure system practiced by most public and private institutions has many disadvantages for females that have children. These disincentives explain the high number of childless women within science and technological institutions. Women who managed to get on the tenure track having children also express dissatisfaction at the maternal responsibilities than men. Females are, therefore, less likely to apply for tenure-track posts and those who do so end up terminating them for catering to their families. This reinforces the reason provided by Ceci and Williams of lifestyle preferences being responsible for women under representation.

Labor outcomes as a deterrent for females in science-related careers

            Studies into the remuneration levels for males and females have revealed two major results. One, it was ascertained that the employment probability and the rate of earning increased proportionally with the increase in educational achievements and two, the earnings were significant lower for female employees than for male ones having the same education qualifications. Statistics from the U.S Department of Commerce indicated that female college graduates earned higher incomes than their high school counterparts did, although the men’s income levels overshadowed these two groups.

The “leaky pipeline” phenomenon is also partly attributed towards the lower income levels for women in math-related professions. This phenomenon refers to the constant drop out rates exhibited by women who are employed in science institutions. At every stage of education, women have a higher rate of dropping out, leaving remarkably few women situated at the top rungs. In this minority state, successful women cannot possess enough influence to pressure for fairer incomes. This relatively lower income is also established by the uncertainty that is typical of most of the women who find themselves in science fields.

Similar studies have been done by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology among 500 departments that stressed on hiring, tenure and promotion. Another study focused on career choices among 1800 faculty members. The findings of this study provided vital information on the academic hiring. Women candidates were more likely to be given employment opportunities for the same position as men applicants. Many departments have made an effort to increase the percentages of female professors within their faculties in engineering and science. Women have been given a significant role in the hiring process to improve these chances. However, women are still underrepresented.

Within the science environment, women are expected to adopt a male model of career success that involves a commitment to aggressive competition and an unrelenting commitment to doing scientific work. Very few women are willing to embrace the male model of academic science until they achieve tenure. Most of them instead prefer to define their own models of balancing work and other personal interests with an emphasis on the cooperation by members of the research group. The only other option for women who cannot embrace this male model would be to leave the profession.


The different cultural backgrounds have served to limit the number of women in math-related professions. Conservative cultures such as Arabic traditions place the woman at a subordinate position compared to men. These limited opportunities for women are evident in education where many girls fail to progress past the college level and, therefore, cannot be employed in engineering fields. Conversely, Western cultures have liberal cultures that allow for equal opportunities in education and upward mobility within the workplace based on merit and other criteria such as experience and achievements. Women studying in North America for instance have a higher chance of completing their undergraduate courses and working in science institutions than women in the Middle East or Asia. Even if women from these conservative cultures accomplish an undergraduate qualification, the work environment at most firms posses many stereotypes again women that interfere with the promotion and success.

Socialization barriers

            Socialization barriers have the effect of excluding women from science and mathematics as well as affecting their careers. The difference in the socialization between men and women, gender expectations and the prejudiced self-confidence are some of the main socialization factors. As girls grow up, they are socialized to seek assistance rather than being self-sufficient. Much later at the graduate levels, women are encouraged to be independent and strategic in their actions. These contemporary expectations go against the traditional female socialization. Many females enter graduate programs with low self-esteem as the experience in graduate school worsened this esteem. Rebbeca Goldin, a permanent math professor at the George Mason University blamed the socialization process for the dismal performance among women in science. She commented “…if having children disrupts your publication or teaching efforts, you are a failure.” (Luscombe, 2010)

Female students and interns at science institution expressed the low self-confidence, for example, a female student in statements such as this one given by a sophomore at a technological college that stated “…a comment from a professor can cripple me. My science is different because of my socialization, not my gender…” Increased socialization differences between men and women can transform the low self-confidence into an increased rate of attrition among women. Their job aspirations drop and even women who stay on do not apply for positions that are deemed difficult. Pregnancy and child rearing have a strong impact on the academic field with the expectation that attention to research achievement will be maximized.

Children and marriage negatively affect women’s careers at three vital periods: having children at the graduate level, pregnancy and marriage. Female graduates also expect that they may be reprimanded for having children, as they may be considered less competent to run science projects (Kabeer 67). Pregnant women are either demoted or encouraged to take leaves of absence. Women, who made it through setbacks of having children, families and completing their education simultaneously, discover that they cannot survive the desired growth in the academic career path. Intellectual exogamy has made it difficult for women who have personal plans of developing their families.

Solutions and recommendations

            Explicit financial support should be aimed at women engaging in science and math-related studies especially at the college and postgraduate levels. This could be in the form of scholarships for universities locally or abroad. These monetary actions could be focused at the lower levels in high schools to attract women and provide them with a stable platform at the later levels. In reaction to the setbacks presented by the male models of science, women graduates may prefer to develop female behavior models in science that they can emulate. Presently, the number of female professors within faculties provides little choices for women graduates

Work cited

Ceci, S.J, and W.M Williams. “Understanding Current Causes of Women’s Underrepresentation in Science.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 108.8 (2011): 3157-3162. Print.

Kabeer Naila. Building Women’s capacity in science and technology in the South. Science Initiative Group.2004. Web. Accessed on 2 August 2012. Retrieved from http://sig.ias.edu/files/pdfs/Women_in_Science.pdf

Luscombe Belinda. Explaining the complicated Women plus math formula. Time Healthland. 28 October 2010. Web. Accessed on 2 August 2012. Retrieved from http://healthland.time.com/2010/10/28/the-complicated-women-math-formula/

Sheffield, Suzanne L.-M. Women and Science: Social Impact and Interaction. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2004. Print.




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