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The gender imbalance in STEM subjects is due to socially constructed gender roles.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/16/2016 Category: People
Updated: 6 months ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 183 times Debate No: 89772
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This debate is about the impact of gender roles on society and how they affect women when choosing career paths. Do women choose humanties due to societal expectations? Is there a biological case for the differences in choices? I am arguing that women avoid STEM subjects due to biological reasons, and that gender roles have a minimal impact on how women choose their futures.

First round: Acceptance
Second round: Opening statements
Third round: Rebuttals
Fourth and final round: Closing statements (no rebuttals)

No forfeiting
No trolling
No ad hominem or personal attacks
Please try to use evidence to back up cases rather than anecdotes or simple opinion.

Good luck!


Hi! I look forward to debating this topic with you. :)

I will be debating that gender roles do play an overwhelming role in women being largely under-represented in STEM.

Debate Round No. 1


Please bear in mind that I say 'socially constructed' gender roles, rather than biological ones.

It is very trendy to say that everything we have in society is socially constructed. Initially we had sexuality as being a social construct, and so along came the 'okay to be Gay' movement. To an extent we had race with operations going ahead to turn people like Michael Jackson who didn't feel black into a different race. It has now come to gender with the progressive left pushing the idea that genders are made up by society, and so women act like women and men act like men only because of what they are told is the norm.

There is plenty of evidence which I will cite, which implies very strongly that difference in the choices men and women make, as well as their general abilities, are due to biology. The first is a paper published by D.F. Halpern et al. about 'The Science of Sex Differences' (1) which presents numerous papers comparing the abilities of men and women across the board. They found that girls consistently outperform boys in reading and languages, and boys consistently outperform girls in maths and sciences. Indeed this can be partially due to the differences in male and female brains, as when performing language based tasks, women use both sides of the brains when men only use one half. Likewise men have larger areas in the hypothalamus that are commonly associated with visuospatial abilities. The article suggests that the increased size of the inferior pariental lobe in men indicated a 'the tendency to rely on spatial representations for solving mathematical problems' whereas women have a 'tendency to represent mathematical problems in a verbal format'. The spatial representations mean that men have a slightly advantage when it comes to logical puzzles that are often found in physics or engineering. However women would have an easier time when confronted by language based problems. This would explain why men gravitate towards sciences, and women towards humanities.

To contrast with scientific evidence, the variation of women in science is interesting as you move around the globe. UNESCO found that there are more women in STEM subjects in Khazakstan, the Sudan, and most of the Middle East than in Britain or Norway. This could imply that the more liberal a country is, and the more choice women have over their lives, the more women that choose humanities. The countries I named of course are renowned for their intolerance of women. Norway however, with a lower proportion of women in science that Britain, is known for being one of the most gender neutral countries in the world. (2)

That's enough for now I think.



In your first source (Halpern), I believe that you are misinterpreting the results. The study actually concluded that "Experience alters brain structures and functioning, so causal statements about brain differences and success in math and science are circular", and listed several experience-based factors (family, neighborhood, peer, school, etc. ). The study did say that boys are more likely to outperform girls on standardized testing. However, standardized testing is not linked to understanding of a subject (1). In fact, consider the possibility that people who think more creatively and innovatively about topics may find the cookie cutter standardized testing to be difficult (or boring and hence underperform). However, these innovative thinkers are what power society forward. The study also stated that the possibly superior verbal skills of girls is actually very helpful in the subjects of math and science.

The map in your second source is quite interesting-- thanks for pointing me towards it! What you said is factually correct, but there aretwo pieces of context missing. Firstly, in European countries, the percentage of women in STEM is relatively centered around 32%. However, in the Middle East, the range is much more extreme (Saudi Arabia is at 1%). Another point is that the Middle East has a very small scientific output and community. 41 countries, 20% of the world's population, only put about about 5% of the science generated.(2) So this example of the Middle East somehow being superior is cherrypicked, and makes less sense in context.

As you stated at the beginning of your argument, trends have taken hold of society, and kids today are different than kids then. Now, women are moving towards equality with men, far away from the dainty little women in a strangling corset who cooked meals and raised children all day. This is reflected in statistics. A psychologist at Cornell University, Steven Ceci stated:

“If you look at the students scoring in the top one in 10,000 in mathematics in 1983, there were 13 boys for every girl,” says Ceci.“Since then, until 2007, that gap has shrunk to somewhere between 2.8 and four boys for every girl. " (3)

This clearly shows the gap closing in, along with the age of girls gaining 'power' so to speak.

Additionally, a stereotype of society is exactly what you are arguing, that girls are intrinsically worse at math and science. This actually has a very negative effect on the performance of anybody, if they walk into something with the predisposition that they'll be bad at it. For example, a study found that, taking the following stereotype into account ('Boys are good at math and girls are good at reading.') " girls who accepted this stereotype performed significantly worse on math achievement measures than girls who did not and boys overall." (3)

Also, a formative influence on children from a young age is media and entertainment sources. Up until very recently, women scientists are often pictured as crazy (think the Big Bang Theory, but there are several other examples).

My final point is that women are underestimated by potential employers in the workplace, who are often men. A study by Yale University found that between two fictitious candidates named John and Jennifer with identical qualifications, John was favored by all sampled: biology, chemistry, and physics professors. (4) This hiring disparity is quite discouraging because even if women are motivated enough to reach this stage past all of the stereotypes (although they are significantly lessening with time), they are also much less likely to be hired.



I look forward to hearing your response :)
Debate Round No. 2


I think you'll find that at the end, the study states that 'Early experience, biological constraints, educational policy, and cultural context each have effects, and these effects add and interact in complex and sometimes unpredictable ways.'. Now I am not saying that society plays no role in the development of individuals, however if, as the scientists claim, there are biological constraints preventing a 50/50 equal aptitude for men and women the utopia of women leading science would be a fantasy. Now this fantasy can be brought to life, but only if social pressures are very strict. This might perhaps include discouraging boys and simultaneously supporting girls in a hope that this levels out the playing field. It still isn't a fair suggestion however.

Now indeed creative people may find school difficult and so the best of us underperform at school, however this is a very rare phenomenon. The only people I can think of who succeeded after dropping out of school were people like Steve Jobs. You may notice a correlation between the discoveries and influence someone has, and the university they attended. The notable alumni of universities like Oxford and Cambridge are extensive, both universities requiring incredibly good grades at school. Unless you have figures on those who underperform at school doing better at later life, I cannot believe the claim. As for the superior verbal skills, the article further states: 'That is, students who are relatively more verbally than quantitatively or spatially talented gravitate toward the humanities and social sciences, whereas those with the opposite ability pattern lean more toward engineering and the physical sciences.' Now verbal skills may very well improve maths and science abilities, but they clearly do not improve such abilities as much as visuospatial skills. Note that the quote says 'students', not men or women, showing that it is the visuospatial skills that encourage going into sciences. The dispute is whether visuospatial skills are naturally better in men or if they are caused by social influences.

The visuospatial skills in males have been successfully demonstrated in Rhesus monkeys, who were given a selection of toys to play with. The researchers found that male Rhesus monkeys massively favoured wheeled toys like trucks, and female Rhesus monkeys had a wide range of interests. (1) This may explain why despite the fact that women make up 47% of the workforce (as of 2013, and with the increase in women in work it is likely considerably higher) (2), they nonetheless only make up 37.8% of science researchers (3) This is all bearing in mind that women are 35% more likely to go to university than men. (4)

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is the only outlier. Generally we would ignore outliers, as the vast majority show an unusually high proportion of women. We can ignore the Middle East however, at look at Africa, where women are constantly being shunned. The Sudan, Egypt, the Central African Republic, and South Africa all also have a higher proportion of women in science. Numerous others are surprisingly close. Now I like to think countries like the UK and Norway are FAR more advanced than such countries, but the figures suggest otherwise. I don't cherrypick, you can look for yourself. There are so many countries with a similar proportion of women in science to the UK which we consider a wasteland when it comes to female empowerment. The quality of the research is completely irrelevant when it comes to whether science is something women really want to do. I don't claim the Middle East is superior, but simply that women in liberal countries go to university more often, and choose sciences less.

As to more women entering STEM subjects in Britain: I should seriously hope so! The numbers of scholarships, prizes, and job prospects women receive if entering STEM subjects is mind blowing. Women are two to one more likely to get a job in a STEM field than their male counterparts now, only because they are women. (5) The power that women are now gaining is that they are now favoured in every single field over men, performing better than their male counterparts in all humanities subjects, and being favoured when applying for STEM. This refutes your point about women being underestimated. The only underestimation that women have nowadays, is that society now claims women need a hand to hold from preschool all the way through to acquiring a job in science, which I don't hear many complaints about.

I would like to add another point into the debate, which is that female babies are better at identifiying faces than male babies. (6) This experiment has been repeated numerous times across many cultures and the results always turn up the same. This would also explain why women favour, and are better at, jobs which include face to face interaction, and why men prefer solitude and fiddling with machines. Although there are clearly influences from society, I think it is abundantly clear that society isn't the sole reason that women choose humanities over STEM. The figures don't make sense when viewed from a social construct perspective as women in more oppressive countries are more likely to go into STEM subjects, and I think the rise in numbers of women in STEM is somewhat due to the excessive bribery of women to join the sciences through scholarships, funding, and positive discrimination.



MistyBlue forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


It is very very clear that gender roles are not entirely socially constructed. The idea of the man doing the manual work is based on male superior physical strength, and there is good reason to claim that males excelling in other areas is also at least partially due to abilities in these areas. We should celebrate our differences rather than claim they don't exist.


MistyBlue forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
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