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Human beings will be happier - not when they cure cancer or get to Mars or eliminate racial prejudice or flush Lake Erie but when they find ways to inhabit primitive communities again. That's my utopia.
~Kurt Vonnegut
Friday, August 04, 2006

Gender Disparities

I've been away awhile due to new job responsibilities that are stretching the innate capacity of my female brain, but, after a refreshing vacation, I'm ready to stuff a little more into some of those crevices and hope my abundance of white matter (compared to a male brain) serves me well.

The Economist has an excellent recap of some of the latest research (link to references) regarding differences between the sexes.
The mismeasure of woman

The article ends with:

"The question remains, to what degree is the absence of women in science, mathematics and engineering caused by innate, immutable ability?

Innate it may well be. That does not mean it is immutable.

Biology may predispose, but even in the rugged world of metal bashing, it is not necessarily destiny."

Another passage I found interesting was this:
Dr Shors says that her work has shown that the female brain, at least, is very plastic, changing dramatically during life in response to pregnancy and menopause as well as puberty.

Dr Baron-Cohen suggests that innate preferences can be carried into adulthood, too. He studies autism and Asperger's syndrome, conditions that are far more common in boys than girls. His theory is that, from birth, female brains are hardwired for understanding emotions (empathising) and male brains for understanding and building systems (systemising). Hence the diverse preferences for toys. The notion is that autistic children—and autistic adults—have extremely male brains. In other words, they are especially good at systemising and especially bad at empathising.

It reminded me of another study I recently read:

Girls and science careers: The role of altruistic values and attitudes about scientific tasks. Weisberg, E.S., & Bigler, R.S. (2006, May 12).

Using experimental manipulation, these two inclusive studies sought to determine if sex differences in altruistic values are present and what role those values played in shaping middle school girls occupational interests in the sciences. Focusing primarily on three factors; egalitarianism, self-efficacy, and utility value, they predicted that girls who were presented messages by female scientists about how scientific careers help others would result in higher levels of interest in science.

Girls indeed valued altruism more than boys according to the study. Interestingly, egalitariaism decreased among the girls in the study, possibly because it was reinforced that science occupations are still male dominated. It is possible that messages of altruistic utility could be developed and could produce significant changes in girls attitudes toward science careers but it wasn't apparent from these studies. The authors state that further research should examine when sex differences in altruism emerge. Sex differences in occupational preferences appear to emerge before the age of five.

Without knowing exactly what the girls were presented in the form of altruistic examples or understanding their receptiveness to the examples, it's difficult to assess how valuable pursuing this hypothesis may be, however, I think it's worthwhile to continue studying along these lines.
posted by Cyndy | link | | |


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