Women’s Mathematical Abilities

Former Harvard President Larry Summers lost his job for suggesting that researchers consider the possibility that biology partially explains the dearth of female science professors. 

Some psychologists believe that if women are told they are less likely than men to be good at math then women will suffer from a “stereotype threat” that reduces their performance on math tests.

Let’s assume that this stereotype threat is real but also that there is some evidence that men are more likely than women to be born with the exceptionally strong mathematical ability needed to be a science professor.  (Full disclosure:  When I started college I wanted to be a theoretical physicist.  I quickly realized I wasn’t good enough at math to accomplish this dream.)

Many professors, especially at the women’s college where I teach, discuss in class how society might and might not be discriminating against women.  Should these professors discuss possible biological reasons for why men and women don’t achieve equal career outcomes?

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