Monday, July 17, 2006

Posner vs Tilghman

Here is legal scholar Richard Posner, in his blog post from yesterday, on the gender gap:
the mean performance of women in college and university is superior to that of the men, but the variance of male performance is greater and as a result there are more male geniuses. There is no reason why the difference in variance should result in higher average male earnings; that higher average is probably the result of women's spending less time in the work force because of pregnancy and child care. Women's greater proclivity for child care may well have a biological basis, as may the difference in variance that I mentioned. In the "ancestral environment"--the term that anthropologists use to describe the prehistoric period in which human beings reached approximately their current biological state--women who were "steady" would have tended to have the maximum number of children, while natural selection might favor variance in male abilities because variance would produce some outstanding men who would tend to reproduce more than other men (including the "steadies") in the polygamous conditions of prehistoric society. If the explanation based on evolutionary biology is correct, women will continue to be "underrepresented" in high-achievement positions in many fields; why anyone should care is beyond me.
And here, from today's Wall Street Journal, is Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman:
There are 25 years of good social science that demonstrate the many cultural practices that act collectively to discourage women from entering and continuing careers in science and engineering. The research is overwhelming, and it is there for anybody to see. On the other hand, the data that would suggest there are innate differences in the abilities of men and women to succeed in the natural sciences are nonexistent.
I think it might be a good idea to get these two together for a debate.