Monday, October 20, 2014

Where Have All the Women Gone?

Maybe you've seen this graph, which has been making the rounds on social media for the past few days:

It shows that the proportion of women majoring in computer science began to decline in 1984, at the same time that women in other professional and scientific fields continued to increase.

NPR's Planet Money wondered why there was such a difference between the fields of study, and they've come up with the answer. You can listen to it here (it's about 17 minutes long):

Or visit the NPR site to play it.

But the short answer is that 1984 was just a few years after personal computers were becoming common, so by that time, some of the college students studying computer science had, in effect, taken unofficial prerequisite courses in programming. Those were the students who had computers as teenagers.

The story then addresses why those students were likely to be men. Ads, media portrayals, Radio Shack exclusivity, and gendered family assumptions about who should have the computer all played a part.

Unfortunately, the story doesn't deal with the other aspect of the digital divide, which is income. Middle-class girls were shut out by the unofficial prerequisite, but so were low-income girls and boys, which includes the majority of students of color.

So there's more to the story. But still, worth a listen.

No comments: