Deep in genetic pool 1

July 4, 2003

Alison Wolf argues that "statistics are a poor way of explaining bias" in degree results (Opinion, THES, June ). But they can provide part of the answer for male-female bias.

Fewer firsts and thirds are awarded in arts and social sciences than in science and technology. Women are proportionately more likely to study arts and social sciences and men science and technology.

In research I undertook with a colleague, we found that subject choice could account for up to one fifth of the difference in the class awarded.

If more female undergraduates studied science and technology subjects, they would have a better chance of being awarded a first - or a third.

Statistics cannot explain away all the underlying factors for the difference in degree results, but subject choice is a significant statistical variable.

Bruce Macfarlane
City University

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