A Professor Like Me

A new study provides some useful analysis of the effects of academics’ gender on university outcomes. The authors cleverly take advantage of the fact that the US Air Force Academy randomly assigns students to sections, with little opportunity to switch.

Sex and Science: How Professor Gender Perpetuates the Gender Gap
Scott Carrell, Marianne Page and James West
Why aren’t there more women in science? Female college students are currently 37 percent less likely than males to obtain a bachelor’s degree in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and comprise only 25 percent of the STEM workforce. This paper begins to shed light on this issue by exploiting a unique dataset of college students who have been randomly assigned to professors over a wide variety of mandatory standardized courses. We focus on the role of professor gender. Our results suggest that while professor gender has little impact on male students, it has a powerful effect on female students’ performance in math and science classes, their likelihood of taking future math and science courses, and their likelihood of graduating with a STEM degree. The estimates are largest for female students with very strong math skills, who are arguably the students who are most suited to careers in science. Indeed, the gender gap in course grades and STEM majors is eradicated when high performing female students’ introductory math and science classes are taught by female professors. In contrast, the gender of humanities professors has only minimal impact on student outcomes. We believe that these results are indicative of important environmental influences at work.

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4 Responses to A Professor Like Me

  1. Cathy says:

    As a (female) maths teacher, I find this very interesting.

    I was only ever taught maths by one female academic at university – and she is now the supervisor for my masters degree, so I am sure that there is some substance to this argument.

  2. conrad says:

    I think the more important question, at least for Australia and the US these days, is “science and the science gap” or perhaps “why don’t white kids do science or maths anymore?”
    Incidentally, speaking of randomization, I very much doubt that people that work in the US Air Force Academy or people that study there are anything like a random sample.

  3. Conrad – On the other hand, I would expect that women in the air force would have unusually high levels of tolerance for mostly-male environments, so if we could repeat this experiment in a civilian context the results may be even stronger.

  4. Manonm says:

    What a profound tragedy that women cannot enter the poorly paying scientific/engineering professions!

    I love the blinkered approach that neo-feminists and well-thinking academics are taking without deviation from the 1960s. Let us speculate endlessly on the tiny gaps that still might exist in particular educational fields. But to be a good academic, we shouldn’t forget to conveniently ignore the vast chasm between the attainment of bachelors degrees by women compared to that of men:
    National Science Foundation statistics.

    In any case I won’t bore you with the terribly determinist arguments about the distribution of mathematical/intellectual/spatial skills across the genders.

    But yes let’s fight every inequality that only impacts on women. Bravo.

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