Larry Summers once famously and controversially speculated that women might be underrepresented in science and engineering because of a lack of natural aptitude. But a new paper by Jennifer Hunt, an economics professor at McGill University, suggests otherwise, looking at the high exit rates for women. "The gender gap is explained by women's relative dissatisfaction with pay and promotion opportunities," she argues, summarizing her recent research for the National Bureau of Economic Research. What's more, "this gap is correlated with a high share of men in the industry."
That means, as Matt Zeitlin summarizes at Think Progress, "fields with lots of men in them are those that women are most likely to exit." But what are the exact mechanisms, then?
This isn't an earth-shaking result, but it seems like in a lot of casual conversation about topics like this, even smart people are very prone to putting forward explanations that rely on speculative generalizations about the specific nature of a field they don't know a ton about. It could just be that there is a positive feedback loop for the amount of women in a field. And since it's unlikely that there's a deep, good reason for engineering and the sciences to be male dominated, there should be an explicit effort to just get women into science and engineering and for them to stay.
Are women leaving science and engineering simply because there are already too many men?