“Why are women bad at maths?” You might remember that corny joke that did the rounds donkeys of years ago. You might even remember its punchline. It the fell into the rude category. What was really offensive about it, however, was its built-in presumption that women weren’t much good at all that numbery stuff – men were the real masters of maths, and if we tell you the answer, girls, then you’d better believe it.
Fast-forward to the “enlightened” 21st century, and that quip has long ago been sent to the old jokes’ home. There’s no scientific basis for a belief that women and men’s brains differ in any way when it comes to mathematical aptitude, although a study by researchers at the department of psychiatry in the University of Cambridge seemed to suggest that men’s brains may be more hard-wired for science than women’s.
This was down to something called E-S or empathising-systemising theory – apparently, females, on average, are more empathetic and males, on average, are more systems-oriented. But the researchers were quick to point out that their findings most likely reflected “an interaction of biological and cultural factors” and that E-S theory shouldn’t be used to prejudge applicants for Stem jobs.
But something still doesn’t add up. When you look at the figures for Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, you’ll find fewer girls than boys choosing to study them in secondary school, and fewer girls choosing to make a career in Stem fields. This just doesn’t compute – especially when you consider the level of earnings that can be made in these areas. What’s putting the girls off going into science?
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