Family Demands is Why Women Opt Out of Math and Science Careers

May 27, 2009

Women want to raise a family, which is why they opt out of math and science careers, a study from Cornell University reveals.

“A major reason explaining why women are underrepresented not only in math-intensive fields but also in senior leadership positions in most fields is that many women choose to have children, and the timing of child rearing coincides with the most demanding periods of their career, such as trying to get tenure or working exorbitant hours to get promoted,” said lead author Stephen J. Ceci, professor of human development at Cornell.

Women also tend to drop out of science fields at a higher rate than men. “These are choices that all women, but almost no men, are forced to make,” said co-author Wendy M. Williams, professor of human development at Cornell.

Women comprise about 50 percent of medical school classes, but they are less likely to be promoted or serve in leadership posts. The authors point out that, as of 2005, only 15 percent of full-time professors and 11 percent of department chairpersons were women.

The full study was published in the March issue of the American Psychological Association’s Psychological Bulletin (135:2).