The recent furore over the Google gender memo has all been a bit tedious. It’s boring to say it but nearly everything in life is a mix of nurture and nature and to adopt an ideological stance on what are extremely complex questions is not going to get you anywhere except perhaps into an endless argument on Twitter.
Anyway, here’s some data for Ireland’s school-leaving class of 2012. The data shows the % uptake by girls in the major subjects (honours level). Note that the numbers for maths may well be inflated by the fact that bonus points are awarded for higher level maths and many of the university courses that are dominated by women demand very high points, so girls tend to be under a lot of pressure to get every point they can. Note also that ICT is not yet on the Irish Leaving Cert curriculum so most students who study ICT at university level will have taken a bit of a punt unless they’ve been in a coding club, or whatever. Finally it’s worth noting that the engineering curriculum is dominated by aspects of mechanical engineering and it looks dead boring to me.
Although I personally believe that there plenty of innate behavioural differences between men and women, I challenge anyone to come up with an explanation for these numbers that is based on innate differences only. For example, is chemistry so different from physics as to be so much more attractive to the so-called “female brain”. Is it tenable to suggest that women are biologically primed to be more interested than men in Music and Art, or to prefer Accounting over Economics, or to be so much more interested in languages than men? I doubt it and I suspect that the choices that boys and girls make at school are influenced by all sorts of cultural, historical and logistical factors. And choices made at secondary school can have significant long term career consequences, at least in Ireland.