Diversity in STEM: Merit or Discrimination via Inaccurate Stereotype?

OpenPsych , March 5, 2024, ISSN: 2597-324X


Leslie et al. (2015) advocated a model where a stereotype that a given field requires brilliance to succeed scares women away from the field, thus resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy similar to stereotype threat. Leslie however ignored decades of findings in stereotype accuracy research, where stereotypes are generally known to accurately track real existing differences. As such, a simpler explanation for the data is that the brilliance stereotype results from real existing differences in academic ability between fields of study, which is also the variable that explains the different distribution of demographic groups in these fields due to differences in academic abilities. Chiefly, men’s superior mathematical ability explains why they are overrepresented in fields that require strong mathematical talent to succeed (e.g. physics). We present an analysis which suggests that the proportion of a field that is female is better predicted by that field’s average math GRE score (r = −0.79) than Leslie et al.’s Brilliance stereotype (r = −0.65), and the proportion of a field that is Black is predicted equally well by both that field’s average GRE score (r = −0.49) and Leslie et al.’s Brilliance stereotype (r = −0.53). We show that a field’s Brilliance stereotype is furthermore closely associated with its average GRE score (r = 0.58). Additionally, we show that a field’s scientificiness stereotype score is predicted by its GRE math tilt (r = 0.36) while a field’s conservativeness stereotype score is associated with the actual percent of registered Republicans in that field (r = 0.55). We conclude that Leslie et al.’s uncritical reliance on inaccurate stereotype to explain disparities in racial and gender diversity by academic field is deeply flawed. Finally, their results failed to replicate among the doctorate holding public; GRE Math was a better predictor of the percent of a field that is female than brilliance stereotype among doctorate holders (r = −0.79 vs. r = −0.39).
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intelligence, sex differences, stereotype, female, brilliance, male

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