The argument that women are underrepresented in math and science careers because they’re just not as good at math refuses to die, but a new study proposes an alternate explanation: women may be leaving these fields in greater numbers because they’re more likely to be good at other things.
In research published in Psychological Science, psychologist Ming-Te Wang and his coauthors measured the math and verbal abilities of 1,490 high school seniors and then followed up with them when they were 33. They found that girls were more likely than boys to score high on both math and verbal skills. And students with high scores in both areas were less likely to be in science, math, or engineering careers at 33, perhaps because they had more options. So for some women, leaving science may be less about dropping a subject they can’t handle than about choosing something else at which they also excel.