Yesterday, I briefly mentioned the topic of women in the math and sciences.
It’s well known that post-secondary education is predominantly female. It is also well known that this is not true of STEM fields, where women are a minority.
Some chock this up to differences in intelligence or that women aren’t gifted at math. It’s not differences in overall intelligence, as the difference in average intelligence between men and women has always been small, and might even have reversed in the last few years. Even so, men have always held generally have held a small advantage in spatial reasoning and mathematical reasoning, but these differences are not great enough to account for the massive disparities in math-based subjects.
Greater male variability may explain some of it. High-level mathematics requires high intelligence, and due to greater variability there are a greater number of high-intelligence males than females (just as there are greater number of low-intelligence males), but as we can see from IQ by intended major, even those intending to enter the hard sciences have an average IQ of only about 110. Even factoring in variability, a requirement for an IQ of 110 should not lead to such large disparities in the STEM field, but fewer women pursue STEM fields at this point.
Feminists will argue that it’s all about discrimination and whatnot, but with the predominance of females throughout the rest of universities and the large number of programs dedicated to attracting women to STEM its hard to see how any can argue this with a straight face.
Not to mention, that females are well-represented in the physical and life sciences. Is there somehow less discrimination in the life and physical sciences than the harder sciences? Unlikely.
Notice instead that the STEM fields women are involved in are the less math oriented sciences. Across the board, women avoid fields that require lots of math.
So the problem is mathematics, but it is unlikely due to differences in intelligence and the explanation of discrimination is ludicrous.
So the answer: in general, women simply don’t like math. Shocking, I know.
Now, this is the point where feminists cry sexism, women do like math (say the female gender and polisci students).
Now, you know from personal experience women don’t like math; ask most women, and they’ll readily admit they don’t like math. The available data seems to support the assertion women just plain don’t like it, but proving that women generally don’t like math is difficult. You can’t really see into women’s minds to show they don’t like math and anecdotes that all your female friends don’t like math is no more proof positive of a statistical trend than the one female friend you have who loves math is proof negative.
So, how can we know?
The answer is simple: Dungeons and Dragons.
See, the thing is, most guys don’t like math either. Only a small minority of men, and an even smaller minority of women, enjoy math. These men are generally referred to as nerds.
(When I say nerd, I don’t mean the recent trend of “LOL, I watched Dr. Who once, I’m such a nerd” hipster teenagers. I mean the actual nerds, the guys who will spend their Saturday nights imagining themselves swinging around +2 Swords of Shining Light or who will actually go outside and throw around lightning bolts.)
These nerds are the ones who dominate the STEM fields.
Why they’re (or more accurately we’re, as I’m a bit of a nerd myself) like that I don’t know, but I kinda like Half-Sigma’s idea that nerds are simply men with a very mild form of Asperger’s, something also kind of touched on by Susan Pinker.
But that’s beside the point, which is that nerds dominate the STEM field, because they are an abnormal sort of people who actually like math.
So, how does that help us prove that women dislike math?
Simple, look at D&D.
D&D, for the uninitiated, is essentially what happens when you combine Tolkien, tactical wargames, improvisational theatre, and mathematics. Nerds get together and each creates a character, which is essentially a large block of statistics and math made of options from a large, complicated rule book. He then gives this block of math some personality (sometimes the personality comes before the math, but most nerds know which usually comes first). One nerd, the GM, gets the especially complicated job of creating a world out of blocks of statistics and math. The nerds then takes their blocks of math which interact with (and kill) the GM’s blocks of math, so their blocks of math can grow larger numbers to defeat more powerful blocks of math. Along the way there is some roleplaying: which is essentially improvisational theatre concerning the blocks of math.
D&D is essentially what people who enjoy math do for fun. It’s making math a game.
It’s a simple fact that few women play D&D, it is largely the domain of males. The game is open for all to play and most players would love to have more females players who share their hobby.
Yet, women don’t play.
You go to any improvisational theatre group, there’s tons of women, women like theatre. Women also like Tolkien, and fantasy in general for that matter. So, why don’t they like D&D?
Most women, and most men, don’t like math, so making a game of complex math is not something they would consider fun.
If women, on average, liked math as much as men, they would be as involved in D&D as much men. There is no discrimination or institutional barriers preventing them from enjoying D&D, all it requires for entry is $20 for the rulebook. You don’t even really need that as most GM’s would be happy to lend you their copy if you join their game.
They are not though.
It doesn’t have to be D&D. In the above D&D can be replaced by complex board games, science fiction, Magic cards, war games, or pretty much any nerdy math-based activity. No matter what the math-oriented hobby, men vastly outnumber women.
Women simply don’t see the enjoyment in spending free time doing math. Most men don’t either, but the minority of men who do is larger than the minority of women who do.
That’s why there’s a STEM gap.
The minority of females who are nerds is smaller than the minority of men who are nerds.
So, next time a feminist says that there’s a STEM gap and it’s caused by sexism, ask her if she plays D&D and how many of her female friends do?
Edit – Post-Script – 3/08 2012:
Seems this got posted at Reddit under the misleading title “Apparently, ladies don’t like D&D because they can’t Math.”, leading to a larger influx of people than my little corner of the internet has had before. It also seems a lot of them are confused by what I have said. I can’t answer every post individually and I do not have a Reddit account, so here’s a little post-script that will count as a reply to everyone.
1: My argument was not women can not do math (and, hence, play D&D). In fact, I specifically ruled out intelligence and mathematical capabilities in the fourth paragraph. My argument was not even that women do not enjoy math at all (and, hence, D&D). My argument was that nobody enjoys math (and, hence, D&D), except a small group of abnormal people (often referred to as nerds) and that more of these abnormal people are male than female. So, before y’all get your knickers in a knot: PLEASE READ WHAT I ACTUALLY WROTE BEFORE WHINING ABOUT WHAT I DID NOT SAY.
2: A number of people are focusing solely on D&D. As I said, you can apply this argument to the nerdy, math-based hobbies from board games to war games to RPG’s to hobby programming to whatever: anything where interaction is largely defined by basic mathematics. D&D was the specific example used, but do not get
3: If you are a women that either plays D&D, board games, video games, or enjoys math, that is wonderful. I wish more women did, I’d like to share my hobbies with others. But because you personally, and a couple of girls you know, enjoy them does not statistics make. I always thought that the preponderance of males in D&D and other such nerdy hobbies was a well-accepted, so I didn’t bother posting any proof. So here’s the proof: males are about 80% of games as per a WotC survey, so yes, more males play D&D. (The data is old, but this does not seem like something that is measured very often and I doubt it’s changed too significantly).
4: I noted the relationship between D&D (and nerdy hobbies) and STEM. This is not an absolute, just a relationship. In particular, I am not STEM myself, so generalizing me to STEM as a whole is silly. I do enjoy the low-level maths of economics and games as a hobby though.
5: Addition, subtraction, and the statistical blocks that make up characters and the (often violent) relationships between them are math. I didn’t say they were complex math, so I’m not sure where the comments about there being no math come from.
6: Yes, I make some typos; I write as a hobby with no editor. If you’re that anally retentive about typos in a blog post, well…
7: I have never had a beard, let alone a neck-beard. I’m not sure what the point of personalizing counter-arguments to a non-personal argument and insulting some random jackass on the internet is, but I hope the venting was stress-relieving.