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When Women Stopped Coding (npr.org)
39 points by kasbah on Nov 19, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 18 comments

These early personal computers weren't much more than toys. You could play pong or simple shooting games, maybe do some word processing. And these toys were marketed almost entirely to men and boys.

It's not expressed explicitly, but this is clearly implying that the reason men and boys were buying and using computers more than women and girls was because of the marketing.

Let me suggest an alternative explanation: Computers were marketed to men and boys because that was the part of the population that was most interested in the things that computers can do. If you want to sell something, your best prospects are going to be the people that already want that kind of thing.

Is there any actual evidence that computers were marketed to men and bots? Or rather marketed more to them? The commodore 64, one of the best selling computers in the early 80s was marketed to the girls as much as to the boys.

Why not a bit of both?

But they also tried marketing to women/girls in the 80s. Buy a PC as the "family computer":



The thing that struck me was the data, not the attempts to explain it. Assume the graph is right. From the 60s to the 80s, the gender mix in male dominated degrees was equalising slowly but uniformly. Then, after 1983, computer science very suddenly became a lot more sexist, while the other technical degrees kept improving as before.

I don't really buy the explanation. The change happens too early: neither schoolboys nor schoolgirls had their own computers in 1982.

> neither schoolboys nor schoolgirls had their own computers in 1982.

Yes we did

Yes, but you where not attending to university at the same time.

I too think that the article got the timing wrong somehow.

But it was probably computers as (and in) pop culture that turned away many that saw computer science as a career path just as law school and medicine.

In the early 80s the white coat scientists where gone in the media, and replaced by neerdy kids, culminating with the unlikly tale of Bill Gates.

The message was that you had ti be incredibly smart and geeky to be able to work with computers.


The reality is that you probably have to be just a bit over average, but mainly just very stubborn and won't mind spending hours and hours solving very stupid problems...

Edit: One way to get stubborn is to be inherently fascinated by computers and self-controlling systems. At least it works for me....

From my view growing up in the 80s - most boys preferred action and sports, virtually all the girls wanted to talk in groups, and a very few boys (myself included) would prefer to obsess over niche things like computers, DnD, games that required tons of focus to the exclusion of social and physical activities. This was innate imho - not from marketing!

Just a side note: I think this is specific to some countries. In India, for example, I do see a lot of women entering the programming field.


has a link to an older ACM article on this.

This is interesting. One possibility, though, is that there are fewer career choices if you don't currently hold US or EU citizenship.

India's domestic market and opportunities are growing, but the monetary value of an education still does depend heavily on access to international labor markets, especially in the US and perhaps Europe.

Law, medicine, nursing, and various other fields may be attractive, but they aren't nearly as open as technology to people who don't have a current right to live and work in the US. Programming isn't locked down by regulatory bodies (which in many ways are cartels backed by government), whereas the US government has gone a step further to open programming and technology to international workers through the creation of specialized visa programs.

Although there is a greater cultural emphasis on STEM education outside the US, my guess that this is still partly a response to the relative difficulty in accessing international labor markets. Studying STEM is more favorable if you're looking outside your borders, whereas law, medicine, whereas the more tightly regulated "professions" are more attractive if you're generally looking inside your borders.

Best reason I've heard is as women get more choices in life they choose careers they want to do over careers based on income and jobs.

That's the only thing I can see that explains the data. It's not that women (as a statistical group) can't code; it's that they don't want to, and when they feel financially secure they don't.

tl;dr > [Computers] were marketed almost entirely to men and boys.

This certainly isn't a groundbreaking sentiment. There were some interesting points in the article, though:

> [a study found that] families were much more likely to buy computers for boys than for girls — even when their girls were really interested in computers

Which caused the men to be far ahead of women where it came down to experience with computers.

I'm not too confident in the accuracy of the aforementioned study, but if the conclusion was correct, then that would certainly point towards the common "social normality pressure" explanation for women being less common in at least CS.

However, it doesn't really apply in present day as almost every family has a computer, and every student entering college now had access to a PC to work on when they were a teenager.

Nacira Guerroudji-Salavan launched last year a "circle of women in cyber security " in part because she was tending a booth at her kids' highschool and when a girl wanted to check the booth because cyber security interested her, the father said"No, this is for boys, for hackers" This is 2015/2016.

is it me or does it feel like the article stops abruptly?

If these early computers "weren't much more than toys" then how did they (even putting aside that the article didn't give any source that they were really directed to boys) give an advantage to boys using them later in computer science?

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