Re: PSYCH: Women and Math

From: Deborah and Gerry Kessell-Haak (
Date: Sat Mar 10 2001 - 19:22:15 MST

Greg Burch wrote:
> >An informal survey of a law firm where a friend of mine started work last
> >year showed that he was the only person (out of 30 odd) whose parents
> >weren't professionals.
> This certainly isn't true in my firm, which is among the largest in the
> Without doing any sort of formal review of the data, but based on 18 years
> personal experience, I'd say the figure is probably about 50%. This
> varies somewhat from firm to firm, based on "institutional culture": Some
> firms will tend to have "personalities" that are more welcoming to
> in different ways.

I should probably qualify the above; these experiences are from New Zealand,
and it is quite possible that social mobility is lower here.

> Based on my experience, I don't think "very few" is justified, but
> a smaller percentage than one would expect if the kind of social and
> mobility you're discussing were randomly distributed.

Based on a (very) brief investigation with the help of Google
indicated that, in general (and across all occupations) ~70% of children
inherit the social
class of their parents. This leaves 30% to move either up or down.

Also note that the small amount of social mobility (I would rate 30% to be
small -
you may not :) .. ) is not at odd with your estimate of 50% - assuming that
there are
larger numbers 'down below' means that a small percentage coming from there
can have
a large impact on the upper echelon.

> As it turns out, in
> the legal profession in the US, the competition for talent is so intense
> the economic or educational background of a candidate's parents per se is
> irrelevant to hiring and promotion decisions. The "great filter" is the
> candidate's own academic performance and personality. Because of the
> for diversity in large firms like mine (something we've developed because
> we've come to realize that diversity is an element of creativity in our
> culture", which is an economic value that goes straight to our bottom
> qualified candidates from traditionally "disadvantaged" backgrounds end up
> having somewhat greater opportunities than those who come from
> family backgrounds.

I seriously doubt, though, whether these advantages will outweigh the
disadvantages that
poorer children have. I don't think anybody here will dispute the fact that
there is a higher
correlation between your parents' income and your income than there is
between iq and your

>I think it would be nice to develop ways for folks to be able to both do
science and
> make more money. The recent trend toward creating university
> vehicles that allow academic scientists to reap more economic rewards from
their work
> is a very good trend, IMO.

Hmmmm - I haven't heard about this. I'm assuming this is a recent American
development. Do you have any addresses I can check out?


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