Advertising Contributed to Women's Decline in Computer Science

Up until the 1980s women made up a large part of the computing industry with 37 percent of women graduating with degrees in Computer Science. So, what happened to all the women? Advertising.

The field of computer science used to be heavily dominated by women. Lisa Wade of The Society Pages writes “As late as the second half of the 1960s, women were seen as naturals for working with computers,” referencing Grace Hopper's 1967 article praising women as “naturals” in the art of computer programming.


By 1984, the amount of women entering the field flattens and plunges dramatically. In 1984, 37 percent of Computer Science degrees were awarded to women, and the percentage continues to drop with 29 percent in 1989 to 1990. We see a trend of women beginning falling behind their male counterparts in classes that claimed to be introductory courses. Teacher berating female students for not being on the same level. But why?

One of the reasons NPR reported on was men had a distinct advantage: they were getting hands-on time with computers in their own homes when their female counterparts were getting none. There's an advertising trend that engaged more men to get involved in the industry. Parents were getting personal computers for their sons because advertisers were targeting them for those products, excluding the demographic who had helped build the industry.

Boys were prominently featured in ads for the Commodore 64 and Apple's personal computers. Movies of the time also confirmed that men and computers were a natural thing—no girls allowed—and all the while the history of women in this industry faded away. These images from the media have created a “geek factor” that some researchers believe discourages women from entering the field, more so than men. This begs the question if TV shows, like Bing Bang Theory, are perpetuating that stereotype, deterring young women to pursue a career in computing. Jan Cuny, a Computer Scientist at the University of Oregon who also directs a National Science Foundation program, spoke to the NYTimes, confirmed this sentiment:

“They think of it as programming. They don’t think of it as revolutionizing the way we are going to do medicine or create synthetic molecules or study our impact on the climate of the earth.”

Read more at The Society Pages

Photo Credit: Chris Monk/Flickr

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