What's driving women out of computer science?

Summary:When it comes to higher education, women have achieved parity with men in almost every technical pursuit...except computer science.

What’s driving women out of computer science?
When it comes to higher education, women have achieved parity with men in almost every technical pursuit...except computer science.

With all science and engineering fields considered, the percentage of bachelor’s degree recipients who are women has improved to 51 percent in 2004-5 from 39 percent in 1984-85, according to National Science Foundation surveys.

But when one looks only at computer science, the proportion of women has been falling: In 2001-2, only 28 percent of all undergraduate degrees in computer science went to women. By 2004-5, the number had declined to only 22 percent, according to an article in the New York Times.

NYTimes.com: Widening GapIt gets worse: According to the Computing Research Association, women accounted for only 12 percent of undergraduate degrees in computer science and engineering in the U.S. and Canada granted in 2006-7 by Ph.D.-granting institutions, down from 19 percent in 2001-2.

And, according to the Times, many computer science departments report that women now make up less than 10 percent of the newest undergraduates.

So what happened?

Some people, such as Justine Cassell, director of Northwestern's Center for Technology and Social Behavior, say that girls don't want to inherit the "geek" mantle.

"The girls game movement failed to dislodge the sense among both boys and girls that computers were 'boys' toys' and that true girls didn't play with computers," according to Cassell in the Times.

Others say that women are more drawn toward computer-related fields such as Website design that aren't true, traditional computer science -- even through the pay is considerably less than, say, software engineering. Another theory is that women are drawn to fields such as nursing because it's easier to get a job in that field.

Either way, there's a broad disparity between the sexes when it comes to CompSci. With tech and engineering hot "sexy" majors again, can we turn the trend around?

What do you think? Are we failing to introduce computer science to women at a young age, or is there some greater social force behind the difference? Tell us in TalkBack.

Topics: CXO, Hardware, Tech & Work


Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. He is also the former editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation. He writes about business, technology and design now but used to cover finance, fashion and culture. He was an intern at Money, Men's Vogue, Popular Mechanics and the New York Daily Ne... Full Bio

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.