Long ago (1988) I moved to Berkeley and started sending a monthly "newsletter" to my Boston friends. When I returned to Boston (1993), I continued the tradition for about five more years (or until I had kids). Looking back, I realize that I was actually blogging. Each newsletter contained anywhere from a few to several blog posts. Having been silent for the past decade or so, I've decided to resume these activities. Don't expect anything profound -- I tend to focus on what I find entertaining or amusing and perhaps sometimes informative. We shall see!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Math, Gender, and Race

Here I am at the Massachusetts State Mathcounts competition. These are arguably the top middle school mathematicians in the state, and I have to confess at being struck by some interesting demographics. I don't have the actual numbers for this, but the organization is run by grey-haired white males; the preponderence of the coaches are women; the vast majority of the competitors are male. The male to female ratio is about 4:1. My impression is that if you are a private school, that greatly increases the probability that there are women on the team.

The top 10 students in the state are all male. Of those, by appearances, only 2 are Caucasian. The remaining 8 appear to all be of Asian descent, perhaps either Chinese or Indian.

I'm not sure what to make of all this, but as a woman in a STEM field, I find it pretty depressing.


  1. I found particularly depressing that although there are many women caoches, they don't get to run the organization and change its face.

  2. My ten-year-old daughter participates in a Math Circle at UC-Berkeley. Similar racial demographic to what you saw, from what I've observed, but I'm pleased to see that there are a lot more girls this year than last -- almost 50/50 in her class, I would guess. I am particularly proud that both she and her first-grade sister are at the top of their (public-school) classes in math. (I take no credit whatsoever for that.) I dearly hope they keep it up.... (Comment by Bruiser Robin)

  3. Update to my stats: one of the allegedly Caucasian top-place finishers is half Asian.

  4. Margo,

    Does it matter what race they are?

    I completely understand your point on females not being present in the top 10.

    But to be disappointed that only two of them are white?

    Its disappointing to me that you are disappointed that they are not Caucasian.

    If I were to "racially" profile you, I can tell from your name that you are Jewish.

    After all, a Jewish person knows all too much about racial profiling? I guess not.

    Your obsession with race is appalling - considering you work in position where your prejudices can influence the fortunes of unsuspecting students.

    1. Because I was hoping to see a population that reflected the population of our middle school students. And in our middle schools just as we see a very different gender ratio than I observed at this event, we also see a dramatically different racial distribution -- such dramatic swings from the total population distribution are all cause for alarm.

      There is no more or less obsession with race than any other observable attribute one can see from simply looking at a population.

  5. @Tupac, why is a lack of women in the top 10 understandably disappointing, but a lack of caucasians (or other diversity, african-americans, latinos, etc) is not? Is it ok to have a preponderance of minorities, but not of people in the majority? If so, then who is being unfair with race? How do you feel about the fact that the people running the show are all grey-haired white males? Does that seem fair and representative?