on September 21, 2009
As a psychology professor who has taught Psychology of Women for many years, I am familiar with much of the research literature on gender comparisons of cognitive abilities. But even I learned a lot from this book. I was so impressed with it that I decided to review it here--my very first review on Amazon. It is far and away the fairest, most balanced and thorough overview of the research on this topic that I have ever seen or read (and I've read quite a few!). It looks at both the case for biological influences and environmental influences--dispassionately and carefully. The authors are well-known and well-regarded research psychologists so they know how to do their homework. This is in contrast to some books that just present only their side or are superficial and present only a few studies. They even tell us that one of the author's minds was changed by what they found. A rare confession for an academic! In the spirit of true scholars, they also admit where there are gaps that are yet to be researched.
In my (educated) opinion, the authors come to a reasonable conclusion. There are probably biological influences but they are relatively minor in comparison to social factors. They show that cultural factors also play a role (they report studies from all over the world--a big plus since many books on gender topics somehow assume that if it's true in the US, it can be generalized to everyone--an arrogant assumption). Since the authors' specific purpose was to explain why math-talented women are underrepresented in math- and science-oriented careers, they also explore the reasons why this has happened. They conclude that it is not lack of math or spatial ability but rather preferences and limitations of academia. If you want to have a tenure track job in a science-oriented university, you have to truly publish or perish. But this is right at the time when women are in their peak child-bearing years. If you don't publish enough, you don't get tenure. Many women really do have to choose between family and careers--which of course men do not have to do. There's more to the picture than that but this is the headline.
I cannot recommend this book too highly. It's not a pop psych book so having a background in research will help you understand some of it. But it's not ponderous. Any educated layperson will be able to read this well-written book and benefit from it. If you want the whole picture and not just part of it, read this book.
on January 16, 2010
The Mathematics of Sex: How Biology and Society Conspire to Limit Talented Women and Girls," Stephen J. Ceci, Wendy M. Williams, 2010. Their work is an exemplar of thorough, fair and objective inquiry into a difficult and important topic. The authors examine why highly math-talented women are poorly represented in the mathematically-intense sciences and even more so in the most demanding positions. They apply insights and research from multiple academic fields to assess many competing explanations. A strength of the book is the astute comparison of competing explanations. I discarded several preconceptions as I learned surprising nuances and complexities. My favorite learning is that "women with high math talent often have more options than men with comparable math abilities. This is because high-math-ability women possess cognitive profiles that are more balanced. ... Those who can only do mathematics at a very high level, end up doing mathematics--but those with multiple extreme talents may choose to do something else, such as law, business, or literature. ... Women with high math ability are significantly more likely to also have very high verbal skills..." Reading this book will make you a local expert on why women of great math ability are rare at the top of math-intensive fields, including academia, despite being equal or superior to males at the earliest stages of schooling and despite much real progress that has been made. The bibliography is extensive and includes much recent work but omits the important body of work by intelligence researcher Arthur R. Jensen, whose name appears within the book.