ZDM
, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 633-646
Date: 23 Aug 2008

Images of mathematicians: a new perspective on the shortage of women in mathematical careers

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Abstract

Though women earn nearly half of the mathematics baccalaureate degrees in the United States, they make up a much smaller percentage of those pursuing advanced degrees in mathematics and those entering mathematics-related careers. Through semi-structured interviews, this study took a qualitative look at the beliefs held by five undergraduate women mathematics students about themselves and about mathematicians. The findings of this study suggest that these women held stereotypical beliefs about mathematicians, describing them to be exceptionally intelligent, obsessed with mathematics, and socially inept. Furthermore, each of these women held the firm belief that they do not exhibit at least one of these traits, the first one being unattainable and the latter two being undesirable. The results of this study suggest that although many women are earning undergraduate degrees in mathematics, their beliefs about mathematicians may be preventing them from identifying as one and choosing to pursue mathematical careers.